From the Captiol / John Hetherington
2010 Legislative Session comes to a close
The Connecticut General Assembly adjourned its 2010 regular session at midnight on Wednesday, May 5. On the eve of that last day a bat found its way into the House chamber and flew around, flapping over the heads of the Representatives and causing uproar. Maintenance staff raced to the gallery, flailing about with a net, while one legislator dashed up apparently to protect the creature's rights. It was a bad omen and augured ill for the business ahead.
Indeed, when the majority party put forth its budget, agreed to by the governor, it revealed a plan actually to increase spending. A portion of the CT Energy Efficiency Fund, created with a charge on your electric bills, is taken for the General Fund. An additional charge on your electric bills, due to expire next year, is continued, with the proceeds pledged or "securitized" to yield $956 million. There are no new tax increases, but don't forget that taxes were increased $1.422 million just last August. With additional borrowing of almost $1 billion, we will paper-over the deficit and get through 2011. But after that the deficit surges to $3-plus million. That will not change unless we accept the challenge and reduce government to a size we can afford. Accepting a responsibility to offer a positive alternative, the minority did just that. It failed on a party-line vote, with all Democrats staying in line.
At 6 a.m. on May 5, with no public hearing and only such debate as could be mustered after an all-night session, the House approved a massive energy bill.
It will take some time to realize the full implications stemming from its scores of pages that were created generally without transparency. We do know that the Department of Public Utility Control, like a giant ameba, will go through binary fission to create two new public agencies, thereby keeping government on the move. There is a promise that electric rates will be reduced by 15 percent, but achieving that goal is far from assured. Part of what is assured is that taxpayers will fund several large alternative energy programs at a cost of over $50 million a year. We all cheer for alternative sources of energy, but surely we are entitled to a few specifics to be certain that our programs actually deliver something.
In addition to the budget and energy, there were also a number of important bills being considered. I want to tell you about some of these.
Failed -- HB 5483 would have increased the hotel occupancy tax from 12 percent to 15 percent and redistributed 20 percent of the new proceeds between host towns and regional planning organizations. Funds for tourism were at risk. It passed the House, but did not get by the Senate.
Passed -- HB 5534 concerning Revenue Accountability establishes a new commission to study the effectiveness of the state's revenue system. Originally it authorized the Department of Revenue Services to release your tax returns to the new commission. As amended in the House, your returns will go to the Office of Fiscal Analysis to be sanitized before being released to the commission. It is fair to ask why your tax returns need to go outside DRS at all except to prosecute violations of law. More government on the march.
Passed -- 5315, HB 5497, HB 5246 deal with the critical matter of domestic violence. HB 5497 includes the extensive recommendations of the Speaker's task force on domestic violence.
Passed -- HB 5533 prohibits sexting, which involves teens ages 13 to 15 using electronic transmission to send sexually explicit photos of themselves or their contemporaries. Under existing law, these teens could be prosecuted for child pornography, which carries a mandatory prison sentence. The new law makes the offense a misdemeanor. Without the mandatory prison sentence, there is far more likelihood that this bad behavior will be addressed.
Failed -- HB 5473 would have removed the statute of limitations for a civil action to recover damages for the sexual abuse of a child if another claimant had brought a similar action against the same defendant within the present statute of limitations. The present statute of limitations allows a suit based on such abuse to be brought within thirty years after a claimant reaches 18. The bill mainly involved a narrow class of possible defendants, including St. Francis Hospital and the Catholic Church. Faced with strong opposition, the bill was never called in the House or Senate.
Passed -- HB 5255 offered promise regarding unfunded mandates, but an amendment, rejected on party lines, would have made it better. The amendment would have deferred in-school suspension and required a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber to impose unfunded mandates.
Failed -- There were several bills with respect to the Citizens Election Fund, but no overall measure to address the points made by the Federal District Court in finding unconstitutional the state's program providing public financing for political campaigns. The appeal of the District Court's decision is pending before the Second Circuit of Appeals. If the appellate court affirms the lower court's decision, the program could collapse unless it is revised by the legislature. The result of collapse would be to throw many 2010 races into confusion.
Passed -- HB 5435 is a comprehensive measure aimed at job creation. The bill reflects good ideas from both sides of the aisle.
Passed -- Finally a measure passed that suspends for two years the corporate entity tax for small businesses that can show they hired people. The loss of revenue to the state is covered by an extra tax only on bonuses awarded to employees of companies that received TARP funds. Some argued that anger over the TARP program might be more logically directed at the Congress that created TARP rather than individual employees.
Let me know if you have questions about particular legislation (800-842-1423 or 203-966-9355).
By the way, the bat was released outside and flapped away to visit the Capitol another night.
State Rep. John Hetherington represents the 125th District.