The 2012 session was dominated by a half dozen controversial issues which consumed most of the session’s energy. The three month short sessions held in even years are far more stressful than the odd year five month long sessions.
This year started with the governor’s joint address on opening day to both chambers which outlined his agenda for the session, but did not mention the word “environment” . In addition to the governor’s announced priority of comprehensive education reform, attention was focused on medical marijuana, the demise of the death penalty, Sunday liquor sales, minimum wage hike, election day registration and a jobs bill. The continuing budget shortfall demanded adjustments to the 2 year budget. This year, as in the past, saw considerable filibustering in both the house and senate by the minority party. Disagreements between House and Senate leadership in the closing days saw many bills pass one chamber, only to die in the other without a vote, despite minimal opposition.
In spite of a tumultuous session, we saw victories in several ways. A few good environmental bills passed. Others passed just one chamber, so are primed to return in 2013. In past years, the environmental community started their bills in the Environment Committee. We now reach out to other committees, such as Public Health, to introduce some of our bills. We had some success this year with the Commerce Committee, traditionally a difficult one for us. Perhaps most encouraging, we were able to derail every single bill we felt impacted negatively on the environment.
We saw our stalwart champions remain strong, recruited some committee chairs to start working with us, and worked with a number of freshman legislators to sign on in support of our bills.
Unfortunately, the revised budget cuts the part of the DEEP budget funded by the general fund by 10%. DEEP has been underfunded for decades, and struggles to meet its obligations to address a wide range of regulatory, advisory, and planning environmental functions. Now it gets a little worse.
Especially distressing was the Energy Committee’s continued practice of bundling many issues into a single mega “omnibus” bill, which appear in final form in the closing days of the session. This year, 2 such omnibus bills were combined into one and made available at 5pm on May 9, exactly 7 hours before the end of the session. The bill was 110 pages, 66 sections, and 3538 lines. There was no time remaining to debate or vote on the bill.
Energy voted out a bill which would have deregulated the state’s telecom industry, as well as allowing cell towers in state parks and forests as of right. The proponent of the bill was AT&T, which has a leadership role in CT in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an ultra conservative national lobbing group masquerading as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Following a joint press conference with Sierra, AARP, Common Cause, Working Families Party, AFL-CIO, CT Citizen Action Group, and the Communication Workers of America, the bill was placed in solitary confinement at the foot of the senate calendar and allowed to expire.
Sierra has strongly supported public funding of elections, and testifies in committee on supporting bills. November of 2008 saw Connecticut’s first publicly funded elections. In the winter, 2009 legislative session, we were hearing from legislators that the decline of lobbyist and special interest money was already changing the atmosphere. The Government Administration and Elections Committee has been strongly supportive. The Committee has worked hard trying to conform Connecticut’s praiseworthy election funding laws to the unconscionable Citizens United Supreme Court ruling which allows unchecked and secretive election funding by super PACs. This year, in addition to a host of small fixes, a worthy bill was passed requiring disclosure of donor’s names for election funding outside the public funding boundaries.
legislature will be back in special session in June, to finish work on the
budget implementer bills. It is possible some leftover work from the regular
session might be included–we’ll have to wait and see.