June 18, 2021
In This Issue:
From Paddi's Desk
CT Agency Corner
Municipal Roundup
From Inside The Golden Dome
This Day in CT History
Another Tough Issue, Another Tough Week in Hartford 

Well, they say a leader’s job isn’t to have all the ideas… it’s to make sure all ideas are heard and that the best one wins at the end. That’s probably the way Democratic leaders and the Governor started out the controversial debate on the legalization of marijuana back in January. They definitely went through a ton of ideas on this issue before they arrived at a solution. 

As you may recall, the Governor made it part of his agenda, including it in the state budget as a revenue gain. Then the politics began to play out. The lead advocates for the legalization of adult use cannabis were the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, members of the Progressive Caucus and those looking for additional criminal justice reform. There wasn’t a shortage of ideas or pieces of the puzzle that have been playing out over the past five and a half months.

Last week, in the hours before the gavel came down to end the 2021 legislative session, it was still unclear if the Governor’s office, the House, the Senate and all the other parties could ever get “the best idea” together. With the budget already passed, there could be a need to revisit the expected funding in year two should the votes in the House not be there before midnight on Wednesday, June 9th. But the magic of a special session appeared before the session closed and the parties went back to the table to resolve the outlying concerns. Meanwhile, the state’s physicians, many in the religious community, those concerned over further addiction and substance abuse problems and a variety of business interests were gathering steam to increase the opposition among House members. 

So, this week the Senate and the House gathered to revisit the issue along with the budget implementer. Still outstanding are votes on the approval of the use for the American Rescue Plan funding, which provides an additional $2.6 billion in federal dollars for the State to use in the next three and a half years. It seemed that both the legalization of “pot” and the budget implementer language were all but set in stone.

In a surprise move, the Senate added language that wasn’t part of the “deal” to the legalization bill and it set off a fury of activity – even before the Senate was to vote, the Governors’ office announced they would veto the bill if a provision wasn’t removed that wasn’t part of the “deal”. The House, still looking for its 76 votes, continued to negotiate with the Senate and the Governor’s office to no avail. The Senate, being the body that they are with controlling interest of 24 -12, pushed through the controversial amendment and sent the bill off to the House with an etched in stone commitment that the Governor would veto the bill if it wasn’t fixed by the House. After a five hour delay in the House, the white smoke appeared and they returned the bill to its agreed upon proves for selection of equity partners and the bill passed the House 76-62, with 13 missing in action.

The advocates in opposition gathered outside the building to continue to put pressure on the legislature and even made election commitments that they will not forget that their voices were not heard come Fall 2022 - the next statewide election. 

As to the budget implementer bill, there were still open ended issues and after much finagling and a 30 page amendment offered by House Democratic leaders, it too passed and it was off to the Senate for a redo on Thursday morning.  

It’s interesting to look at how these two issues get wrapped up today (Thursday) when the Senate reconvened to adopt the changes made to the bills in the House. It definitely wasn’t pretty and the “best” idea definitely didn’t evolve either. Some feel on big important policy issues like this one, the legislators needed to step back and pause before they moved ahead. As they say, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Time will tell if the move to legalize marijuana is good for the state, especially for the high school and junior high students. The business community - with all the federal military contracts that flow into CT - definitely will see a huge need to up the company’s game on random drug testing and find the right one to protect those military contracts from disappearing. The CT physicians will continue to educate the public and legislators about the damage that can happen if the under 21 set start to infiltrate the legal market. The religious leaders have a mission for the 2022 election if their statements are taken seriously. Who will know, for a while, if as they say - the juice was worth the squeeze.  
The New Normal Is a Return to Normal

For those who may not know, the State announced last month that employees for all state agencies will be required to return to the office on July 1st at 50% capacity.
This is being implemented by the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) who is allowing the commissioner of each state agency to have staggered return to work week hours based on critical staff needs and other factors such as space and flexibility for remoteness wherever possible.
For some agencies (mainly the Department of Transportation and Department Emergency Services and Public Protection), they have had employees in the office even during the spring and summer months last year but this new order will now bring all employees back to their office in the Executive Branch.
How will this work for the Legislative Branch? All signs seem to be pointing to an opening of the State Capitol and Legislative Office Building (LOB) by late summer/early fall but that decision has not been made yet by Legislative Leadership. There are certainly those staples of the Capitol (media reporters and lobbyists) eager to return to the marble and halls but the legislature is officially now out of regular and special session and will need to rethink if changes should be made to accommodate the public.
The questions in front of them consist of the following:
-Requiring face masks or not
-What to do with the cafeteria 
-Will opening the LOB mean restricting access to certain offices during business hours 
All of these questions and more remain to see what the New Normal looks like!
Municipal Impact on New Budget

There were all kinds of winner and losers in the state of CT biennium budget and subsequent budget implementer and that includes winners and losers on the municipal side as well. East Windsor had a glimmer of hope in the budget that would have given the town $3 million in state aid to replace money that they lost out on when the anticipated tribal casino was set to locate there. The so-called ’tribal winds’ casino was a joint venture between the two federally recognized tribes in CT and in the gaming compromise that passed earlier this year that project was taken off the table. Unfortunately for East Windsor, the funding was pulled from the final package. Jason Bowza, East Windsor’s First Selectman outlined his displeasure by suggesting the pulling of the funds “was done without any communication to us at the forefront of things, and that’s really a said commentary.” 

There were many municipal winners with new dollars coming in ECS funding and an unprecedented bond issuance of close to $1 billion over the next five years to CT’s city’s. This new capital investment will be a huge shot in the arm to communities who are most in need and can be used for a wide variety of projects. In addition to those dollars, there were increases in Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILOT) which towns and cities rely on to offset local property tax increases.  
Right to Read Legislation Crosses Finish Line

One piece of the budget implementer bill you might not have heard much about yet in the days since the session ended is a provision deemed by advocates as the "right to read". This concept was pushed throughout the session (and in prior years) as a response to the statewide literacy crisis many of our school districts are dealing with. The bill would establish standards for reading curriculum consistent across the state to mitigate the fact that students in lower performing schools aren't reading at the same level as their counterparts in higher performing schools. These best practices include evidence based, structured instruction and interventions. This effort was championed by members of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, primarily Senator Pat Billie Miller (D-Stamford).

This proposal started out in the Education committee as HB 6620: An Act Concerning the Right to Read and Addressing Opportunity Gaps and Equity in Public Schools and passed through the Education and Appropriations committees before it was included in the budget implementer bill. Proponents stressed the need for this bill because data shows that literacy is a critical predictor in lifelong success. During the public hearing, the concept was supported by almost all who testified, including the State Department of Education who will play a large role in its implementation.
June 17th, 1971: President Nixon Declares a "War on Drugs"

Yesterday, June 17, 2021, marked the fifty year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the "War on Drugs". President Nixon declared drug abuse America's "public enemy number one", and a great deal of federal funding was used to enforce drug prohibition laws that led to rapidly rising incarceration rates in certain minority communities. Coincidentally, also yesterday, the State Senate passed the bill to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, in SB 1201.

In a statement, Governor Ned Lamont recounted this significance:

“It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war. The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety.

That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature and other stakeholders to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous unregulated market and support a new, growing sector of our economy which will create jobs."

Click here to watch a clip from President Nixon's speech.
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