Apr 2, 2013
11:10 PMConnecticut Today
A Roundup of Key Bills Currently Before the Connecticut Legislature
The Connecticut General Assembly has a lot on its plate for this spring. Here are a few of the major bills and issues under consideration:
1. The State Budget
As always, "It's "about the economy, stupid," so the most critical task facing lawmakers will be the continuing effort to get Connecticut's fiscal house in order. At last check back in January, the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis was projecting a shortfall of $138 million for this year. The governor's office claimed that it was less than half of that, putting the number at $64 million.
Back in February during his state of the state address, Gov. Malloy introduced a controversial two-year state budget of $43.8 billion that would eliminate most car taxes and increase spending by almost 10 percent. To fund this budget, the state would have to increase its borrowing, cut aid to local municipalities and keep certain corporate taxes in place that were going to expire.
Most Democrats are on board with the governor's proposals, while the Republicans, led by gubernatorial hopeful Larry Cafero, have criticized the budget as being "a gimmick-riddled shell game."
2. Gun Control
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Gov. Malloy and lawmkers on both sides of the political aisle of the Connecticut legislature have made toughening Connecticut's gun laws a priority. A recent Quinnipiac Poll suggests that the majority of Connecticut residents favor certain a statewide ban on ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds and expanding the statewide ban on the sale of assault weapons.
After months of hearings and studies, the legislature recenlty announced a bi-partisan agreement has been reached, which they have proclaimed as among the toughest in the nation. One controversial aspect of the legislation is a compromise that would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines but allow owners who already have them to keep them, although they would have to be registered. Also included are universal background checks and an expansion of the current list of weapons currently banned in the state.
The state Capitol in Hartford has been witness to recent rallies, both in favor of and opposed to gun control.
The bill is scheduled for vote on April 3.
3. Cuts to Connecticut Municipalities
Back in December, Gov. Malloy cut $4.7 million in aid to state cities and towns as part of an effort to stem what turned out to be a $123 million shortfall in the 2013 state budget. In his recent state budget, Gov. Malloy proposed greatly reducing car property taxes, which is estimated to result in $500 in revenue losses, most of which would normally go to municipalities. Also included is another $86 million cut to funds normally distributed to cities and towns.
Many municipalities have suggested that if these cuts go through, they will be forced to raise local property taxes to make up for lost revenues. In addition to municipal leaers, much of the legislature is also opposed to the car property tax cuts. The issue has been passed along to committee for further study.
As the state budget negotiations ramp up, expect to see the issues of municipal cuts to gain more attention.
4. Cuts to Connecticut Hospitals
Due to issues involved with the state budget and changes in the Connecticut's arrangement with federal Medicare, the new state budget looks to cut aid to hospitals by $103 million. In a double whammy, the state is also looking to raise revenue by taxing hospitals to the tune of $403 million over the next two years.
State hospitals currently receive about 8.5 percent of the state budget; the new budget is looking to reduce that number to 7.9 percent. The state says that because of the many changes that have happened and that are scheduled to be instituted because of the Affordable Care Act, hospitals have seen there revenue greatly increase and can manage these cuts. Obviously, hospitals don't quite share the same view and are looking to mitigate cuts.
5. Genetically Modified Food Labeling
Genetically modified food is food that is created by genetically modifying organisms or crops, such as many of the vegetables and fruits sold commercially.
Connecticut is currently considering a bill that would require genetically modified food to be labeled, which would make the state the first in the nation to do so. Connecticut legislators have been holding hearings over the past few weeks, hearing testimony from nutritional and business experts, inlcuding Jerry Greenfield, one of the eponymous founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream (who is in favor of labeling, for the record).
The federal government and various health-care groups such as the World Health Organization have stated that genetically modified food is safe for human consumption. The U.S. Food and Drug Association currently allows for voluntary labeling.
Many consumer-rights organizations who favor labeling do so because they believe that consumers should know what's in their food so they can make informed choices. Other groups, such as the American Medical Association, have opposed labeling, suggesting that since there's no scientific proof that there's any significant difference between genetically modified food and other foods, there's no need for labeling.
Recently, Whole Foods became the first major grocery chain to require suppliers to clearly label all products that contain genetically modified ingredients. Suppliers will have five years to comply, or face not being carried in any stores belonging to the chain.
6. Assisted Suicide
Looking to join a few other states who already allow physician-assisted suicide, Connecticut's general assembly is considering legalizing the controversial practice. The governor has come out as undecided on the bill.
Based on Oregon's "Death with Dignity" Act, the potential law would allow those facing a terminal illness and with less than six months to live to be allowed to end their own lives via drug provided by a physician. The law would also protect physicians from prosecution.
Currently, the bill is currently being considered by the Public Health Committee, with strong cases being made by both proponents and opponents. If it is not voted on by the committee by April 5, it will die there.
7. Bear Hunting
As we recently wrote, the state is considering allowing the strictly regulated hunting of black bears in Connecticut for the first time since 1840.
If approved, bear hunting would be limited to certain areas of the state for a very short season each year. Those interested in getting a bear-hunting license would have to pay a fee to enter a lottery for licenses.
Recently, the proposal cleared a first hurdle as the Environment Committee of the state House of Representatives approved a bill requiring the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to submit a report on the possibility of establishing a lottery.
8. Minimum Wage
The minimum wage in Connecticut is currently $8.25 an hour. Recently, legislative Democrats announced a campaign to raise that rate, and have held hearings in regard to it.
If the new plan is approved, the new minimum wage as of July 1, 2013, would be $9 an hour. A year later, on July 1, 2014, it would go up to $9.75.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Connecticut is among 19 states whose minimum wage exceeds the national rate. It was raised to its current rate in 2010.