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    Tuesday, November 28, 2023

    Special General Assembly session could address voting rights, climate initiatives

    The upcoming special session of the General Assembly, necessitated when legislators ran out of time to consider several major bills, will focus mostly on recreational marijuana.

    During the regular session Democrats achieved a number of policy goals related to criminal justice, voting rights, income inequality and transportation. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House passed a bipartisan state budget as well.

    Still, House Democrats had expected to get to passing a recreational marijuana bill that the state Senate passed earlier last week, but ran out of time. Republican filibustering and daylong debates caused Democratic leadership to turn to what they said is their bargaining chip: throwing the legislature into special session.

    House Speaker Matt Ritter said Republicans “should’ve let us vote.” He has chosen not to call for a vote on controversial bills instead allowing extended commentary from Republicans. He's said that he views calling for a vote as a last resort and doesn't want to set a precedent. 

    Republican House Leader Vincent Candelora said last week that his party felt the process to approve a recreational cannabis bill was rushed.

    Marathon debates are also expected for the special session, which the Senate takes up Tuesday before the House on Wednesday. Other than the recreational cannabis bill, lawmakers will be considering a “budget implementer” bill. The legislation, meant to implement new services outlined in this year’s budget, is expected to contain language from other bills that weren’t called in time for the regular session. Democrats have warned that would be the case if a special session took place, while Republicans have promised lengthy debate if too many extra items are attached to the bill. 

    One such bill that will be in the implementer package, according to Ritter, is Senate Bill 5. Like the recreational cannabis bill, this voting rights bill was passed by the Senate but went uncalled in the House. Championed by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, it would make voting drop boxes a permanent fixture rather than merely a stopgap measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, among other measures. 

    In a statement following the close of the regular session last week, Merrill urged lawmakers to take up the legislation in special session.

    “Although the legislature failed to take action to make the popular secure ballot drop boxes a permanent feature of our elections, to expand our successful program of Automatic Voter Registration at the DMV to other state agencies, and to finally allow people on parole to register and vote, just like people on probation, I am optimistic that every one of these important issues and more will be addressed in the upcoming special session,” she said. 

    Gov. Ned Lamont has asked also that legislators raise the Transportation Climate Initiative in some form, a measure Republicans refer to as a “gas tax.” 

    “The new gas tax will be implemented as a revenue mechanism to fund the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI),” Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, said in a statement in April. “The program is designed to achieve a zero-carbon environment through a series of stark policy changes and mandated caps on Connecticut suppliers, ultimately driving up the prices you pay at the pumps.” 

    Originally in the state budget, the TCI was removed following backlash because starting in 2023 the program is projected to drive up gas prices by about 5 cents per gallon. The TCI is meant to reduce the state’s carbon emissions by capping carbon pollution from transportation. Money generated from gas suppliers buying carbon credits would then go to certain Connecticut communities affected by pollution as well as more environmentally friendly transportation initiatives. 

    The recreational cannabis bill will have to be passed by the Senate again as well as the House. The Senate passed it 19-17 on the first go-around. Lawmakers will have a decision to make on the almost 300-page bill that provides for social equity, growing weed at home, scrubbing criminal records with qualifying marijuana-related charges and tax revenue. It’s caused much debate between progressive and moderate Democrats and the governor’s office, with Republicans generally opposed.


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