Gov. Lamont wants special session to vote on tolls, hospitals and restaurants

Gov. Ned Lamont told leaders of the state legislature Tuesday evening that he wants a special session before Christmas to approve four contentious issues, including a scaled-back highway tolls plan.

"I understand and appreciate this is a difficult and expedited time frame, but believe these to be important issues which require resolution before year-end,'' Lamont said in an email to both Democratic and Republican leaders. “I have instructed my office to prioritize my time to remain focused and working in collaboration with each of you.”

Lamont said he would like legislators to meet during the week of Dec. 16, and House Democrats have been told by their leaders to set aside the dates of Dec. 17, 18, and 19 for possible special sessions.

Besides transportation, Lamont wants votes before the end of the year on the annual bond package of construction projects, a comprehensive settlement of a long-running lawsuit by hospitals against the state, and a resolution of a bitter battle between restaurant owners and workers over wages for employees who receive tips.

The four issues have been among the most contentious of Lamont’s first year in office, and legislators have been battling over each one as special sessions have been repeatedly postponed throughout the summer and the fall.

Legislators were still unsure Tuesday night on exactly which issues would be tackled. They have repeatedly delayed votes on tolls, where support has been lacking. Larry Perosino, a spokesman for the House Democrats, said the agenda for a “possible'' session ”is still being finalized.''

Kevin Coughlin, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working with the governor’s office on a "potential mid-December'' session.

"The issues covered by any possible session have yet to be determined,'' Coughlin said.

Lamont said he was “respectfully” requesting a vote on electronic tolls to pay for specific bridge construction projects as part of a larger initiative to address the state’s transportation bottlenecks on highways and commuter railroads. House and Senate Democrats have both failed to pass tolls for passenger cars, but Democratic leaders joined together with Lamont last month for a new plan for tolls for trucks only at 12 spots around the state.

At a meeting at the governor’s mansion last week, Lamont and top Democrats agreed broadly to support 10-year, $20 billion transportation plan that relies heavily on federal borrowing that would be extended over a 35-year term.

The compromise plan endorsed by House Democrats calls for 12 tolling locations around the state that would generate about $180 million per year. The governor’s original plan, released earlier this fall, called for tolling all vehicles at 14 locations to raise about $320 million a year.

“We like this plan. This plan works, and the numbers add up,” Lamont said after a Nov. 26 meeting at the Governor’s Residence. “I’m here to solve problems — not to study problems. ... Let’s get this thing started in an honest and comprehensive way.”

Regarding the highly complicated hospital settlement, Lamont said that his staff will be coordinating with the legislative staff in order to conduct an informational hearing. The clash involves hospital taxes and Medicaid reimbursements that are highly detailed and have been in dispute for more than five years as hospitals repeatedly clashed with then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Some legislative leaders were not immediately available for comment Tuesday night. But state Rep. John Hampton, a moderate Democratic swing voter from Simsbury, said it is "overly ambitious'' to believe that the legislature could settle four contentious issues before Christmas. Since the latest trucks-only tolls plan was released only last week, he said a public hearing must be held before any votes.

Lamont wants lawmakers to finally vote on resolving a clash between restaurant owners and workers, which has led to lawsuits against multiple restaurants around the state. Lamont vetoed a bill that would have restricted the rights of the workers to win legal settlements, but the legislature never voted to override the veto. Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven and others say that many legislators agree on a bipartisan solution that has been blocked by the Senate Democrats due to pressure from union officials, but the Senate Democrats say they are trying to resolve the issue in a satisfactory manner that does not hurt the workers.

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