This week the legislature really kicks into high gear. The most visible event will be the Governor´s budget, to be released with a big speech with great fanfare on Wednesday. There will be, however, a lot of committee hearings during the rest the week, many of them with proposed bills that need your input.
All in all, pay attention to the budget, but make sure to read what else is coming up below.
This week: the Governor's Budget
The Governor's Budget speech will be the at the center of the legislative agenda for weeks to come. For those who want to listen in, it will take place Wednesday, February 8, at 12 PM. You will be able to stream it live at CT-N.
After the speech, if you want more details, you have two options. On Thursday, Ben Barnes, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, will present to the Appropriations and the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committees on the proposed budget. Soon afterward (hopefully by Monday), we will release our updated report on the Children's Budget. Make sure to follow us on Facebook for the latest analysis.
This week: bills we are tracking, hearings
Really busy week, with many bills coming up for a hearing. Here is the list of committees and legislation we will be paying special attention to, as well as pointers on how to testify.
Tuesday: Children's Committee
Room 1B, 10:00 AM
- S.B. 397 – Establishing an independent Department of Children and Families (DCF) ombudsman. The bill would move the current ombudsman from within the department to the Office of the Child Advocate, improving oversight.
- S.B. 637 – Child welfare oversight council. Provide oversight to DCF, ensuring that the data collected under current federal supervision is still tracked. This bill is a narrower version of H.B. 6517,which is not being heard Tuesday.
- H.B. 6297 – voluntary placement in DCF custody and parental rights. This bill seeks to sort out a complicated issue: whether parents of children with severe mental health issues must relinquish parental rights for their children to receive DCF support in accessing treatment. DCF only receives federal funds for children in their custody.
How to testify: Sign-up for the hearing will begin at 9:00 A.M. in Room 1B of the LOB. Bring 30 copies of written testimony. You can also submit written testimony by e-mail to KIDtestimony@cga.ct.gov.
Also on Tuesday: Human Services Committee
Room 2B, 2:00 PM
- H.B. 7006 – Restoring the Care 4 Kids Program to the Department of Social Services. This will transfer Care 4 Kids from the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) to the Department of Social Services (DSS). Connecticut Voices for Children opposes this move – see the rationale below.
- S.B. 774 – Extending Temporary Family Assistance benefits to encourage employment.
How to testify: sign-up for hearing will begin at 11:00 AM at the first floor atrium at the LOB. You can e-mail your written testimony to HStestimony@cga.ct.gov, Subject: "Miscellaneous Human Services Bills".
Also on Tuesday: Insurance Committee
Room 2D, 12:00 PM
- H.B. 6175. Strategic plan to ensure continued access to affordable and comprehensive health care coverage. This bill seeks to create a backup plan in the event that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed by Congress. It is important to note that Connecticut receives a considerable amount of Medicaid funding through the ACA, so a repeal would have serious budget consequences.
How to testify: sign-up for hearing will begin at 10 A.M. in room 2800 at the LOB. Submit 30 copies of any written testimony. You can e-mail your written testimony to INtestimony@cga.ct.gov,
Starting Thursday – Appropriations Committee hearings
From Thursday 16 to Friday 24, LOB
The Appropriations Committee will conduct a series of hearings on the budget, with each subcommittee covering a specific area of the budget. If you have a program that is facing cuts, it is important to testify. Here are the most relevant dates:
- Human Services: February 16, 4:30 PM
- Elementary & Secondary Education: February 21, 4 PM
- Judicial and Corrections: February 22, 6:30 PM
- Health: February 23, 4:30 PM
You can find the full list, as well as specific instructions on how to testify in front of each committee, on the CGA Bulletin. If you have specific questions on the budget (how much something was cut or where was an item moved) or you need a hand figuring out how to testify and what to include on the testimony, don't hesitate to e-mail us.
On a side note: testifying in front of Appropriations is important, but you should strongly consider also testifying in front of the Finance Committee once it's their turn to look at the budget and consider revenues. Appropriations hear from service providers and people who rely in human services often – it is before Finance where our voices are rarely heard. We will make sure to remind you to testify there when the time comes.
Updates: bills we are tracking
H.B. 6678 – An act establishing a state-wide education property tax system in lieu of the current property tax system.
A bill that seeks to introduce a state-wide property tax to fund education in Connecticut, based on the principle that equal effort in raising revenue for education should lead to equal funding and resources. We talked about this bill extensively last week; it has moved from the Planning Committee to Finance. We are expecting to get a hearing on it soon, so stay tuned.
H.B. 7006 – An act restoring oversight of the Care 4 Kids program to the Department of Social Services and allowing for the transfer of federal block grant funds to the program. Hearing is tomorrow; read below why we don't support the bill on its current form.
Spotlight: Keeping Care 4 Kids at the Office of Early Childhood
H.B. 7006 seeks to transfer the Care 4 Kids program from the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) to the Department of Social Services (DSS).
The bill is a response to the cuts that Care 4 Kids has suffered in the past few months; the program is currently closed to new applicants. The idea is that by placing it under DSS the program will have access to more federal funding (potentially TANF money) and it will be easier to protect from further cuts, as the state can find other resources within this larger department.
We are skeptical that this bill will make Care 4 Kids stronger, however. First, the OEC was created with the aim of consolidating under one roof the dizzying variety of programs and funding streams related to early childhood in the state by creating an agency that could look at the system as a whole, blending and braiding funding streams to make more efficient use of existing resources. Moving Care 4 Kids back to DSS would weaken this structure, and the early care and education system as a whole.
Second, past experience of Care 4 Kids under DSS shows that the program would remain vulnerable. The program saw severe cuts between 2002 and 2005; when the program was previously closed, enrollment dropped by half. Access to TANF funding would likely prove elusive in a context of diminishing federal funding and competing priorities.
Webinar alert: property tax reform
Join us on February 15, from 10 AM to 11 AM for our upcoming webinar: Equal Funding for Equal Effort: Property Tax Reform in CT.
Ray Noonan, author of our recent property tax reform proposal, will explain the issues and problems that plague our current property tax system and explain a possible solution: an adjusted statewide property tax system based on Vermont's model.
Legislative arcana: how to testify at the Capitol
It is an imposing task – going in front of a legislative Committee to offer your take on a specific bill, explaining why you support or oppose it. It seems like a complicated, hard to navigate process, that involves long waits, obscure rules and public speaking.
It is actually much easier than it looks.
Testifying can involve long waits and public speaking, but it is actually a fairly straightforward yet highly effective way to advocate for programs and policies. Although each committee is slightly different, the process of testifying is largely the same for all of them, with minor differences.
It all starts with the legislative bulletin, the place where committees post the date, time and agenda of their hearings. On each hearing notice they will post the time, location, when and where to sign up (to get a spot in the order), and how many copies of the written testimony to bring in. As you have seen above, we will make a point of calling out when important hearings are coming in this newsletter, as well.
Once you are signed up, testimony is limited to three minutes. You will wait for your turn (it can be a long wait, some days), and then have three minutes to sit in front of the committee and make your case. Committee members might ask questions once you are done, an opportunity to expand your case. You can always refer to your written testimony on your presentation, giving an overview of the main points. You can read your testimon if it is short enough, although legislators tend to be more responsive to off-the-cuff testimony.
If you can't testify in person, all committees accept written testimony; the e-mail address for submissions is always included in the hearing announcement at the bulletin. Lawmakers often read testimony submitted this way, and they will use it on floor speeches and during committee meetings. If you have a compelling case, they will rely on it to protect your program.
A few pointers to make your testimony effective. First, stick to the subject matter: you are testifying for or against a bill, so avoid going over issues that are not on the day's agenda. Second, be brief, polite and considerate, even when opposing a bill. Legislators appreciate it. Third, remember we can help – if you have any questions on how to submit testimony or what to include,e-mail us.
What we are reading
- The CT Mirror has an excellent series of articles on the Connecticut state budget crisis – a great primer to understand upcoming Governor's budget. You can find them here: I, II, III, IV and V.
- Arbitrary Austerity – our 2016 report on the long-term effects of budget cuts.
- Reviewing tax expenditures – our 2016 report on lost state revenue from tax exemptions and loopholes. We are working on an updated version of this report, to be published soon.