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Republicans and Democrats of the Connecticut General Assembly are gearing up for the short 2020 legislative session set to open on Wednesday.

The session, which lasts from Feb. 5 to May 6, is the shorter of the two in Connecticut’s two-year cycle. With advantages in the House and Senate, 91–60 and 22–14, Democrats led by Gov. Ned Lamont are expected to set the agenda for the session. Lamont spokesperson Rob Blanchard told the News that the governor is excited to work with the legislature, and to see what they can accomplish together.

“The governor worked hand in hand with the legislature last year to strike the right balance on paid family leave, minimum wage, the restaurant workers bill and the current transportation bill, and continues to collaborate well with them,” Blanchard said, adding that the issues the legislature and Lamont will consider during the session are likely to be “good ideas that will resonate with the public.”

In the short session, bills must be introduced in committee or by the governor’s office. Although Democrats hold the committee chair positions, Republicans still hope to propose a few of their own bills.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, told the News that his caucus plans to focus on tightening campaign finance laws, improving the strength of Connecticut’s apprenticeship programs, reducing premium healthcare costs and improving women’s health services, among other issues. Despite their disadvantage in numbers, Fasano said he is optimistic his caucus can partner with Democrats on a number of important issues.

“What you hear on TV or news is the 3 or 4 percent that we don’t agree on like tolls, but 97 percent of what we do, we agree on by vast numbers,” Fasano said. “It’s a little disingenuous to think that every bill we submit is met with hostility.”

Gov. Lamont also has a number of priorities for the short session, some of which overlap with Fasano’s. Blanchard told the News that the governor’s first initiative for 2020, publicly announced last week, is a proposal to help Connecticut businesses succeed. Rather than offering tax breaks for large, national corporations to persuade them to operate in Connecticut, Lamont hopes to offer mid-sized Connecticut businesses incentives to succeed and grow. He is also aiming to expanding the state’s “Small Business Express” program, which supports small businesses in Connecticut, including many owned by women or racial minorities.

Lamont will also be initially focused on ensuring that his transportation bill is finally passed and signed into law, after a drawn-out debate over tolls for much of 2019. He also hopes to address workforce development, including appropriating grants to particular areas; gambling; legalizing marijuana; and lowering the cost of college, day care and health care for middle-class families, according to Blanchard. Legalizing marijuana has been a heated issue in Connecticut for over a year, as the governor and many progressive lawmakers hope to address both the criminal justice and public health aspects of the issue. Lamont previously promised to work toward making Connecticut carbon-free by 2040 and will put forward a number of environmental initiatives as well, Blanchard said.

Rep. Anne Hughes D-Easton, a member of the progressive caucus in Hartford, told the News that despite the shortened length of the 2020 session, she’s planning to remain focused on advocating for bills that focus on equity and justice. She also said that the upcoming November election won’t change the way she legislates, and is planning to push Democrats in the legislature to consider proposals that may not be considered “politically expedient.”

“I was elected to do the most good for the time we have right now,” Hughes said in an interview. “I can’t really fear that. I have to really remain galvanized and focused on pushing us, so that this is not a waste of the public’s time … because we’re too worried about the outcome in the election year. What we have to do is be … even more determined to make progress.”

Hughes said that she and her caucus hope to focus on addressing climate change this year, including a “Green New Deal” for Connecticut, as well as police accountability, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, working on legalizing marijuana and making sure all Connecticut residents have access to affordable healthcare. She told the News that as the federal government “rips away” protections in the EPA and from the Affordable Care Act, Connecticut should serve as a model for good governance for the rest of the country.

Still, not everyone in Hartford is as confident as Hughes about the potential effect of the 2020 election on the short legislative session. Blanchard acknowledged that the 2020 election, with President Trump on the ballot, will be lurking in the background of all the work the legislature does this session, and said he doesn’t expect many radical proposals. Fasano told the News that he and his caucus are consistent from session to session regardless of the timing of the next election, but claimed that the same cannot be said about Democrats.

“From our side of the aisle, we’re consistent in what we do. We’re pro-business, we’re pro-health, we’re pro-workforce, I don’t think our agenda items change from year to year,” Fasano said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily true of the other side of the aisle. I think they get very anti-business, anti-economic growth in odd years, and in even years when there’s an election they tend to be more bipartisan, more pro-business, more pro-economy.”

With transportation still waiting for consideration and a crucially important election less than 10 months away, uncertainty abounds in Hartford.

“What will all of this look like … I’m not really sure yet, it’ll be a whirlwind,” Hughes said.

The 2020 election is on Nov. 3.

Emmett Shell |