The divide between Democrats and Republicans continues to widen in the nation’s capital as the partial federal government shutdown heads into its fifth week.
But in Hartford, legislators from both parties of the Connecticut General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill to help unpaid federal workers this week in a major show of bipartisanship.
The emergency bill allows federal workers to access state-backed, no-interest loans while they wait on their overdue paychecks. The act sailed through the House and Senate on Tuesday morning with a margin of 127–15 and 32–1, respectively. Newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 signed the bill on Tuesday afternoon — making it his administration’s first piece of legislation.
“I think we did a really good thing today,” Lamont said moments before signing the bill. “I want to thank leaders on both sides of the aisle … for this bipartisan victory.”
The bill allows both furloughed and unpaid federal workers who reside in Connecticut to receive unemployment assistance as a result of a partnership between the state and private banks and credit unions. In addition, state municipalities may now choose to defer property tax payments for impacted federal employees.
Republican leaders across the state applauded the bill’s bipartisan support and its efforts to unite the public and private sectors to assist workers who have already missed one paycheck.
“Uniting state and private sector efforts is an inventive way to achieve our shared goal of helping federal employees most in need,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, in a Jan. 18 statement. “I appreciate the governor’s work to unite lawmakers on both sides of the aisle behind this solution.”
The bill was introduced by six of the state assembly’s top leaders from both parties — including Fasano, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and House Republican leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
Nevertheless, several conservative Republican legislators voted against the bill for philosophical reasons, according to State Sen. James Maroney ’96, D-Milford. Republican lawmakers said that it was unfair to extend the benefit to furloughed federal workers without providing the same policies to other workers who live paycheck to paycheck.
Maroney expressed his hope that the legislature’s quick action and wide consensus on the issue would extend to other legislative issues throughout the rest of the session.
“For the most part, everyone came together on this bill,” Maroney told the News. “It’s a definite good start, and let’s hope that it sets for the rest of the session.”
Maroney also commended Lamont’s ability to work with the private sector, which will shoulder 90 percent of the risk of the loans.
The Connecticut delegation to the U.S. Congress — which consists of two Democratic senators and five Democratic House representatives — has also taken measures to minimize the impact of the shutdown on workers. The delegation together penned an open letter addressed to Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Thursday, calling for federal workers to receive unemployment benefits while the shutdown drags on.
“This shutdown — despite some comments to the contrary — has had very real impacts on the public, and especially on the federal workers who are either furloughed or working without pay,” the letter read. “While ideally, these workers would be paid their hard earned salaries, at the very least they should be able to access unemployment compensation benefits.”
Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., were among a party of Democratic senators who stood on the steps of the Capitol Building last Wednesday to protest the shutdown. Around 15 senators joined the protest, during which they held up photos of their constituents affected by the shutdown.
Both senators have been very vocal opponents of the shutdown and President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.
“Just a reminder that we could end this shutdown TODAY if Mitch McConnell let us vote on the same legislation we passed unanimously before the new year,” Murphy tweeted on Jan. 16.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, announced on Tuesday that they will hold votes in the Senate on Thursday on competing plans to reopen the government. Republicans will introduce a measure to fund Trump’s proposed border wall, while Democrats will introduce a proposal to fund the government through Feb. 8. However, both measures are likely to fail.
The federal government has been in a partial shutdown since Dec. 22.
Nathalie Bussemaker | email@example.com