General Assembly heads for the finish
Hartford — Slightly groggy-eyed lawmakers with coffees at arm's length made one last push on Wednesday to pass legislation before midnight - the close of the 2014 legislative session.
The Senate spent a good portion of its day Wednesday honoring retiring members, and the House of Representatives spent more than three hours debating a bill that would require a three-year moratorium on storing fracking waste in Connecticut.
By 8:50 p.m., the implementer bill, which details 2014-15 spending and includes last-minute legislation, hadn't been released online. But some details of the omnibus bill had been leaked by the late evening - including hints about legislation to study the taxability of nonprofit colleges and hospitals.
Bills that already had been passed in one chamber of the General Assembly by Wednesday and might be passed in the other chamber before midnight included legislation to create a statewide port authority and to empower municipalities to create governing boards for regional dispatch authorities.
At 8:53 p.m., the House passed, 141-4, legislation to allow municipalities to tax one- to four-family residential structures at nonprofit colleges that were purchased as of July 1, 2015, if the municipality approves the tax change and the General Assembly approves the municipality's ordinance. The bill was sent to the Senate, but it is unclear whether that body will pass the most recent, watered-down version of House Speaker Brendan Sharkey's "reverse PILOT" plan.
"I think all tax programs of universities and hospitals are off the table for this session," Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said.
• The draft language of the implementer bill included the establishment of a Connecticut Retirement Security Board that would determine whether a public retirement plan for low-wage private workers is feasible. The state comptroller and treasurer would serve as co-chairmen of the board. No later than Jan. 1, 2016, the board would have to submit its findings to the governor and the General Assembly's Labor and Public Employees Committee.
"... we need to do a market feasibility study to make sure we are doing this in the best way to help those we are trying to help and not put liability on the state," said Matthew Brockman, legislative and policy representative from Council 4 AFSCME.
• The legislation to create a three-year moratorium on storage of fracking waste and require the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to create regulations was debated several hours in the House on Wednesday before being passed.
Fracking - also called "hydraulic fracturing" - is the process of pumping chemicals and water at high pressure into the ground to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas and petroleum. There is no shale in Connecticut, but proponents of the bill said they feared state companies would get into the business of processing other states' "toxic" fracking waste.
Several House Republican lawmakers said they were concerned the moratorium would encourage other states to impose temporary bans on fracking waste or fracking in general, which they said could increase natural gas prices. The Senate passed the legislation on Tuesday.
Bills still in limbo by 8:50 p.m. on Wednesday included:
• The development of a Connecticut Port Authority, House Bill 5289, which aims to bring more business to state ports in New London, New Haven and Bridgeport, was passed by the House Tuesday. The Senate, which has yet to vote on this issue, passed similar legislation last year.
• Permission for municipalities to create governing boards for regional dispatch centers, House Bill 5531, was passed by the House in April and awaits a Senate vote. New London, Waterford and East Lyme requested the legislation and likely would create a governing board of local representatives to run a police, fire and emergency services regional dispatch center if the bill passes.
• Bow hunting, House Bill 5080, would allow Sunday bow-and-arrow deer hunting on private land in overpopulated deer management zones. The state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection would define the zones and has said 10 of 13 deer management zones are overpopulated.
• Adoption records, House Bill 5144, would allow people who were adopted on or after Oct. 1, 1983, to obtain copies of their birth certificates in order to find their birth parents. Current law bans adoptees from accessing their original birth certificates without a probate court order and doesn't permit adoptees to have information that would identify a birth parent without the parent's consent.
Three legislative leaders were honored on Wednesday for their commitment to public service:
• State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, is retiring after nearly 22 years of serving Brooklyn, Canterbury, Killingly, Mansfield, Putnam, Scotland, Thompson and Windham in the 29th District.
• House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, is retiring after nearly 22 years of serving New Canaan and Norwalk in the 142nd District.
• Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who is a gubernatorial candidate, is retiring after nearly 16 years of serving the 28th District, which includes Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Weston and Westport.
"Mostly what I learned about you was how you handled the Newtown families," said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, to McKinney, "and I am a huge family person and I think what you did on that day and the months that have followed since then was simply put - courageous."
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