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Don't Be Caught Short This Legislative Session

An Introduction to the Legislative “Short Session”

Every two years, the Connecticut legislature passes a budget.  Usually, the governor makes recommendations based around their policy priorities and the legislature either amends that proposal or the two political parties step forward with their own budget.  The year after the initial budget is reconciled and approved, further adjustments can be made to the budget in what’s called the “short session”.   It’s called a short session because the legislative year only lasts from February to May in these years (as opposed to January to June in “long session” years).  2024 is a “short session” year. 

While all this concern over passing a budget to fund the various programs and services that constitute state government is happening, a whole host of laws are passing through the two chambers (the House of Representatives and the State Senate, just like at the federal level) attempting to morph themselves into legislation.  Technically, the laws under review during the “short session” are supposed to pertain to adjustments to the budget from the previous year, but there’s a bunch of ways lawmakers get around this.  For instance, they can reintroduce legislation that never got to the floor for a proper or final vote the previous year.   However, since the session is short, there’s a more frenzied pace to the tango between lawmakers, lobbyists, and the general public that makes keeping up with what’s going on at the Capitol a difficult task.  

North Haven DTC Member Brandi Mandato lobbies Washington D.C. with the organization Jobs For the Future

Every single piece of legislation introduced into session is the result of everyday citizens talking to their representatives, organizing like-minded individuals or groups, and being intimately involved in the process of edging their bill through the statehouse.  Those who’ve been involved in the process know that just getting a bill to the public hearing stage where others can give testimony about how the law would impact them is a feat in and of itself.  Many bills die before that, some get through to one chamber and stagnate, and some get passed through both chambers where the Governor could always veto. 

North Haven Democratic Town Committee (DTC) members are regularly involved in bills that appear before the statehouse.  Some have given public testimony.   Some have lobbied on behalf of their civic groups, unions, business interests, or personal beliefs.  Some have contacted their representatives or representatives in neighboring districts to share their concerns or support from various laws coming down the runway. Some have been involved in drafting legislation.  Since both of our current representatives are Republicans and tend to rally with their party’s interests, the North Haven DTC is a great resource for those in this otherwise blue state looking to connect to a broader coalition of legislators, advocates, and activists who can help strengthen Connecticut’s legal system to protect the vulnerable, safeguard the environment, promise justice and equity for the underserved, increase affordability, and otherwise make our state a better place to live in. 

How to Track Legislation

Simply tracking legislation as it arises throughout the state can be a time-consuming task.  Likely no one, even our representatives, would ever be able to get a full grasp on all the bills floating out there in a given session, short or otherwise.  Local news outlets may have some information, but these publications are becoming more scarce, employing less journalists, and increasingly focusing their resources on high-impact, click-generating breaking news items.   

As a result, much of the news coverage of statehouse activity focuses on flashier or more controversial bills.  These articles are sometimes still helpful, but many focus on pull-quotes from opposing sides rather than the actual content of the bill or the impact it may have on residents. Even after you find some of these articles online, they may be lying behind paywall or subject to awful UI (user experience) such as frequent pop-ups or loud ads that autoplay.   I’ve had my best luck finding materials on sites like CTNewsJunkie, the Connecticut Hearst Media suite of publications (which locally includes The New Haven Register and the North Haven Citizen, and the subscriber-only imprint CT Insider), the Hartford Courant,and CT Mirror.  

Following representatives on social media may also yield some informative insights, depending on how actively online they are, but their vantage too may be limited to the various committees they chair or participate on.   Signing up for the newsletters of causes you believe in will sometimes alert you to upcoming votes or opportunities for direct feedback.  The more helpful ones also provide phone numbers and emails of folks to contact, templates and instructions for providing testimony, and outlines of why a given bill is needed or what it will do. 

All of this is dancing around what is by far the most useful resource online, and also the primary source for a lot of this other secondary material, the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) website, a massive and somewhat archaic warehouse of data it would take several training sessions to cover in precise detail.  The CGA site features a site for every single bill introduced.  The bill page lists the sponsors and co-sponsors of each fledgling proposal, tracks where in the process the bill is and every date an action was taken on it, hosts every piece of publicly submitted testimony, charts how every single representative voted, posts the exact bill language, and monitors amendments and changes made to the bill since its introduction.  

Best of all, one can track and receive regular updates on bills they are interested in by signing up for a free account.  Bills can be tracked either by sponsor or co-sponsor, which is helpful for keeping up with your own representative’s activities.  Though the CGA site is not a powerful enough tool to export this data in a way that is quantifiable, a careful perusal of this material can give you a good sense of how effective your State Senator or Representative is in actuating change, pushing bills past the finish line, or representing your interests.    

Bills can also be tracked by a keyword search of the bill number itself, which can be tricky to figure out. News articles and activist newsletters sometimes provide the bill numbers, and these are practical for a number of reasons.  In any given year, as many as 10 different bills may be introduced to all address the same topic, but only one is likely to have the traction needed to advance through the various stages needed to hopefully arrive on the Governor’s desk to sign.  It’d be difficult for even the most insider soothsayer to guess which one will have the magic mixture of legalese and charm to make its way out of committee, which is why a nice cocktail of press coverage and insight from those working within the Hartford machinery will garner a layman the most accurate outlook of which bills have the best chance of becoming Connecticut state law. 

2024 Legislation in the Works

North Haven DTC Member Alex Johnson at a press conference speaking on behalf of rideshare organization Connecticut Drivers United

So knowing the scope and the ropes a bit, here’s a small fraction of the things that local news have been covering. Opinions within this section are fully my own and not those of the broader North Haven DTC, but I think they’re worth sharing to get a general sense of what is out there at the moment.

There has been a gigantic push for more affordable housing over the past few years in Connecticut by advocacy groups who are seeing the need among all the corresponding vulnerable populations they work with.  With Connecticut becoming a more desirable place to live, the price of homes in Connecticut has skyrocketed (along with interest rates, thanks to the precarity of the economy).  This works out well for those who already own homes, but not as much for renters, first-time home buyers, or those with limited income.  In addition, pre-existing affordable housing tends to be concentrated in urban areas whose high municipal costs put extra strain on their complicated and costly budgets, while suburban and rural communities adopt a “not in my backyard” approach to creating affordable housing spaces in their towns (a resistance that, at least historically, has roots in the racist history of redlining).  

As one method of protecting CT families from homelessness and arbitrary/capricious eviction, newly formed tenant unions and other grassroots housing advocates have been pushing for Just Cause Eviction legislation to create standards that all landlords will have to adhere to.  Meanwhile, the coalition group Desegregate CT has focused on designing a plan to get hesitant suburban communities on board with providing low-cost housing and rental units to their least served populations.  A legislation they are calling Work Live Ride aims to simultaneously bolster economic development, build out public transportation, and tackle the housing crisis by creating the means to develop mixed-use housing that blend in with local businesses and transportation hubs like train stations. 

Many laws have been introduced to protect Connecticut from broader national trends in which conservatives have used the courts or the statehouses to infringe on personal freedoms.  Latest among these is an attempt to have an amendment that would protect the right to both abortion and gender-affirming care.  There has also been movement to prevent outside influences from asserting their control over student choice and librarian/educator autonomy vis-a-vis book bans.  Likewise, CT Democrats have been working hard to prevent a descent into the madness that outlawed IVF treatments in other states with their own set of laws.  

After the Supreme Court’s supremely unjust ruling against affirmative action, students and activists are looking for their own ways to level the scales by going after legacy admissions, which tend to swing far whiter and wealthier than the average Connecticut college student. For those without endless reserves of investment capital, the expiration of the child tax credit represented something of an income penalty to working Connecticut Families, who were being hit with parallax inflationary consumer costs.  This is why many legislators have tried to localize the solution and offer a similar tax credit at the state level. Other potential expansions of individual freedoms could come in the form a Colorado-style decriminalization of psilocybin or the expanded consumer sale of fireworks.

On the labor front, long-running proposals to introduce standards for predictable scheduling and worker-disenfranchising noncompete clauses have been reintroduced with a hope that 2024 is the year they finally cross the finish line.  Efforts to finally expand CT’s paid sick leave laws to cover workers at organizations with less than 50 employees has the support of Democratic lawmakers and the Governor, which is a good sign, even if Republicans are pushing back hard against it.  Meanwhile, Connecticut Rideshare drivers continue to face a massive uphill battle against gig economy billionaires for the right to work with dignity, transparency, and decent wages. 

Public Education was dealt a huge upfront blow by the Governor’s initial budget proposal, which slashed spending for both K-12 and higher education.  Both sides of public education are facing massive fiscal cliffs and personnel shortages.  Cuts of state aid will likely have a disproportionate impact on districts that are already disadvantaged by limited municipal funding like Hamden and New Haven, but towns like North Haven with a low tolerance for mill rate increases will also be adversely affected even though their state aid is much lower.  Lamont also proposed a controversial and potentially expensive program to lock student cell phones during class time.  Meanwhile, advocates continue to press for additional funding that would provide a non-means-tested way to offer free school meals for all public school students.  As stands, Connecticut lags behind fellow New Englanders in states like Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts, who’ve already passed laws to this effect. 

Progressive legislators have continued pressing for a more equitable redistribution of taxation by looking in particular at creating new tax brackets for multi-millionaires and creating a surcharge on capital gains.  Their hope is that this would address many of these unfunded or underfunded initiatives without breaking the bank of Connecticut’s working families, but faces resistance from both the Governor and deep-pocket interests along the gold coast.

Healthcare, the rising costs associated with it, and those who remain uninsured or underinsured is always a pressing issue. Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing any forward momentum in this area this year because of last-minute meltdown by a Democrat out of Rocky Hill. 

In North Haven, it’s unlikely we will receive much help from our representatives on any of these things, even though many of these  bills would directly benefit folks right here in town.  As a deep blue state, North Haven is hurt by not having folks able to work within the party that sets the agenda for the state.  We should make sure that our needs are being represented and not falling by the wayside, or subject to the whims of a contrarian minority hoping to forestall progress to make themselves look good.  By electing local Democrats to state Congressional seats, we could join pre-existing coalitions already fighting for a more equitable and just state where everyone can afford to live, get a top tier public education, and who can work and live their life with dignity and autonomy.  Many of our existing DTC members are already involved in these fights in ways we hope to highlight for you in future blog posts. Support the North Haven DTC and join up with us to help us win local elections, build local power, and make Connecticut the best state it can be.

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