April 19th, 2024

In This Issue:

From Paddi's Desk

CT Agency Corner

Municipal Roundup

Inside Scoop

This Day in CT History

This Week's News:

CT officials insist tax cuts will remain as pandemic relief expires...

CT housing advocates say they're tired of waiting for change...

The way it was

As each legislative session starts to heat up but also winds down for the year in Connecticut, there are only 12 days left to “make the magic happen” and the nostalgia begins to pop up more frequently. Many refer to state capitols as the “hallowed halls” whereby traditions linger through time, as a system of beliefs or behaviors passed down from legislator to legislator having meaning or special significance with days past, struggles won, or recognition of the past and how far as a group they have come. They bind today’s elected officials with yesterday's veterans as they remind us of the foundation of democracy.

Often in the fast-paced world of politics, traditions get overlooked but in Connecticut, they live on with a sense of shared purpose and history. They build comradery at times and foster civility just when it’s most needed during heated sessions of hot debates over some extremely controversial issues.

State legislatures, steeped in tradition, serve as a living museum for democracy, where each custom, ritual, and ceremony reflects the unique identity of its constituency. Whether it's the ceremonial gavel, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the point of personal privilege, or the singing of anthems. These rituals remind legislators of the solemn responsibility they bear and provide opportunities to forge stronger relationships with those they may day to day disagree with on policy issues.

Fostering bipartisanship cannot be overlooked in these times of uncertainty, fading respect, and decreasing abilities to disagree one day and agree on the next. Stronger party philosophies create clear divides on what direction the state should take. In Connecticut, leaders and the rank and file members not only respect the historical traditions but many newer traditions have sprouted up by various segments of the state legislature. Legislative traditions provide a rare common ground where legislators from across the aisle can come together in mutual respect and cooperation. Through traditions such as bipartisan committees, joint resolutions, and shared social events, lawmakers reaching across the aisle to build bridges, and forging alliances that transcend party lines for the greater good of their constituents we can be assured that our elected officials are well aware of the fragile environment we all are experiencing these days.

Connecticut has always understood the power of tradition and woven it deep into the fabric of its rules and procedures. We are one of few states to have bicameral committees, continue to respect legislative decorum, and insist on observing previous rulings of chamber leaders to serve as a guiding light for lawmakers navigating the complexities of governance.

Traditions rooted in history include the formal Opening Day and Sine Die / Closing ceremonies, the use of the ceremonial gavel when the chamber gets a bit rowdy or filled with excess noise, the use of some honorific titles such as "The Honorable," or “The Good Senator / Representative” are used when addressing each other in formal settings as a sign of respect for their colleagues and the legislative process. In Connecticut, both the Speaker of the House and Lt Governor (President of the Senate) insist on adhering to established norms of legislative etiquette, such as addressing the presiding officer, abstaining from personal attacks, and refraining from disruptive behavior during debates.

But where Connecticut shines is in the use of special events and joint outings of all members of the legislature. Decades ago, competitive softball games would mark the end of committee action and the beginning of fierce floor debates. The short-lived talent show created some lively entertainment until cell phones equipped with cameras came to life and were ditched for a more appropriate basketball tournament to honor a long-time beloved Lobbyist.

Today, as we count down the days to Sine Die day we find interwoven into the official legislative schedules events like this week’s very competitive Kick Ball game pitting Republicans and Democrats against each other on the Yard Goats home field, or the Black and Puerto Rican Spring Fling to celebrate the changing of the season and to raise funds to support an internship for an aspiring policy nerd –much like the traditional Italian Dinner hosted by the Italian Caucus or the St Patrick’s Day Irish Coffee gathering to celebrate the diversity of people who have contributed to our heritage of a huge melting pot of unique backgrounds and cultures.  

Often an outside group hosts an event that resonates for either being at the right time with the right atmosphere or features a bit of normalcy during times of increased stress that have become traditions as well. Legislators seek out information about when – “Puppy Day” will be held to educate legislatures about the need to adopt stranded pets hosted by our client the CT Humane Society (and this year a new tradition is about to be introduced by our client Mystic Aquarium - Penguin Day!). Then there’s the Lobbyist Dinner created by the CT Association of Lobbyists to celebrate the last week of the session where the leadership helps us manage our time by calling a “talker” so that we can break bread for an hour before the fireworks start up again. The “Saturday Session” tradition is held on the last Saturday before adjournment where the dress codes are tossed to raise funds by a bipartisan committee to support specific charitable organizations and several practical jokes make their way onto the House and Senate floors to break the tension. Anything ice cream-related is a big tradition and a magnet for legislators, staffers, and even the Capitol Press Corps and the Governor’s Office!

But the reward for all those involved during the Legislative session begins at 12:01 AM after the last gavel strikes. Leaders host “End of Session Parties” sometimes with a theme or sometimes with local entertainment but always the perfect setting for mending fences, celebrating wins, lamenting over bills that got stuck on the calendar, showing appreciation for those who stood tall, or reliving one of the best war stories of the session.  

These traditions, and others, play a vital role in shaping the culture and functioning of state legislatures, reinforcing democratic principles, fostering bipartisanship, and preserving the rich tapestry of state history and identity.

We have two sayings at Sullivan & LeShane that reflect our team philosophy “Relationships Matter” and “Work hard, Play hard”. They are the cornerstone of our tradition of success.

Point of Interest

Brandon Evans

Debates Heat Up

Some spirited debates are happening on the floors of the House and Senate on a range of issues like street takeovers, and pool barriers for preventative safety, that directly impact residents' lives. One point of discussion in working groups and forums revolves around Artificial Intelligence, and the ever-growing range of the group thought surrounding it.

There is a growing interest among legislators in regulating artificial intelligence (AI) technology to ensure ethical and responsible use across industries. Rather than solely targeting companies, the debate centers on establishing guidelines that govern the code of conduct for AI systems, aiming to prevent potential violations of privacy, bias, and other ethical concerns. Some legislators in working groups throughout the nation have voiced the importance of having a trustworthy and transparent AI. Studies have shown that 52% of constituents are more concerned than excited about AI, and 10% are more excited than concerned. These discussions reflect a proactive approach to harnessing the benefits of AI while mitigating its potential risks and ensuring accountability.

At a recent AI forum featuring state legislators, key figures like Senator Maroney, who co-chairs the discussions, emphasized the significance of creating oversight to regulate AI, drawing inspiration from comprehensive regulations in Canada. The dialogue highlighted growing concerns among constituents. Meanwhile, legislators from Texas, Alaska, Virginia, and North Carolina shared their respective state's approaches, with a focus on protecting against potential faults in AI and ensuring the responsible development and use of this technology. As the dialogue continues, we will learn more about this growing issue that is worrisome in the public eye.

Many communities are facing tough choices within their municipal budgeting processes, especially with COVID-era ESSR education funding being eliminated. Stamford is no different. This week the Board of Finance made significant reductions to both the education and city budgets despite initial proposals from Superintendent Tamu Lucero and Mayor Caroline Simmons. Lucero sought $333.7 million for education, while Simmons aimed for $341.7 million for the city government. These figures were reduced by $3 million and $2.15 million, respectively. Despite efforts by some members to push for larger cuts, the final decision settled on a 5.5 percent increase for schools, a 5.2 percent increase for the city government, and an overall 4.7 percent increase, pending revenue level decisions that would affect tax rates.

During the deliberations, Republican member Dennis Mahoney advocated for a $5 million cut to the education budget, emphasizing the need for fiscal prudence and collaboration with the Board of Education. However, the proposed cut failed to garner sufficient support. School officials attributed the need for budget increases to factors like previous cuts, rising transportation and special education costs, and flat enrollment. On the city side, cuts were made to various departments and programs, including public safety and community services, with disagreements arising over proposed allocations for projects like solar infrastructure and a public safety complex.

Continuing our updates on the Bridgeport Mayoral race issues, Connecticut's State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) referred two cases of alleged absentee ballot fraud in Bridgeport to Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin for potential criminal charges, following a scandal that led to the annulment of the city’s 2023 Democratic mayoral primary results. The cases, stemming from complaints forwarded by the Bridgeport Police Department during the primary election between Mayor Joe Ganim and challenger John Gomes, involve incidents of "ballot tampering" at the Fireside Apartments and "suspicious activity" at a drop box outside Bridgeport’s government center. While the suspects remain unnamed, notable figures such as Councilwoman Maria Pereira and Democratic Town Committee vice chairwoman Wanda Geter-Pataky were previously under scrutiny for their involvement in absentee voting efforts. Despite the influx of complaints, including allegations of absentee ballot fraud, from Bridgeport in recent months, a referral to the Chief State’s Attorney does not guarantee criminal charges, as seen in a similar case from the city's 2019 mayoral primary that remains unresolved.

T-Minus Three Weeks 

This past week, the Connecticut General Assembly welcomed the National Champion UConn Men’s Basketball team to the Golden Dome in a star-studded celebration of what feels like an annual celebration we Nutmeggers may be getting too used to. With just a few weeks left, and a handful of session days scheduled, we are getting close to the end of session with a lot of questions still to be answered (or kicked down the road). One of the most interesting aspects of the UConn Men’s Basketball Team visit was the very obvious elephant in the room. While there will not be significant changes to the budget for the state of Connecticut, there will be dollars out there for one-time funding through ARPA and potentially other sources of revenue that might be out there. A timely visit from the Huskies certainly didn’t hurt as their President and leadership looks for more state support, among others.

UConn and higher education remain a priority for the legislature and with just a little bit of money out there, a handful of priorities will get new dollars. Just this week, the Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter of Hartford mentioned that higher education, IE UConn, would be taken care of. CT Insider pointed out the very obvious this week around this issue, specifically, “Ritter said higher education will be a top priority for legislators — along with non-profits, children's mental health services and municipal aid — as they seek to allocate surplus funds before the legislative session ends May 8. He said he anticipates CSCU will receive enough money to avoid the 5 percent tuition hikes administrators are set to impose next fall.”

We are rushing towards the end of session with little certainty as to just how much money in unspent federal dollars are out there that legislators could use as direct injections to the very few and specific priorities. As things get closer to the “end,” and the legislature gets a better sense of what kind of bank account they have to work with, be sure to follow along with this write-up to learn more.

April 19: Connecticut Ratifies the Bill of Rights - 150 Years Late

Today in 1939, Connecticut became the last state in the the union to ratify the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights — 150 years after the list of amendments was first proposed.

Why the delay? It certainly wasn’t because Connecticans didn’t care about securing individual rights. Connecticut’s colonial government codified one of the earliest sets of individual rights in American history in 1650, through a set of laws that included personal protections against murder, slander, forgery, and theft.

More to the point, the Connecticut General Assembly had also voted in favor of ratifying the 10 amendments back in 1789, when they were first presented. A procedural inconsistency between the upper and lower houses of the state legislature, however, had prevented the vote from becoming official. Thankfully, the General Assembly’s technical error didn’t jeopardize the adoption of the Bill of Rights. The Constitution required 3/4 of the states to approve amendments for them to become law, and that threshold had already been met.

On April 19, 1939, as the nation celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, Connecticut followed the example of Massachusetts and Georgia (the two other states that had failed to officially ratify the Bill of Rights in the 18th century) and held a vote to ratify the amendments. Both houses of the General Assembly unanimously approved the measure, and Connecticut became the last state to ratify the U.S. Bill of Rights — today in Connecticut history.

To view the full story on the CT Historian's website, click here.

Sullivan & LeShane, Inc.
www.ctlobby.com | (860) 560-0000