Connecticut Legislative session kicks off with State of the State
Governor Ned Lamont discussed his budget proposals including for housing, education and making New Haven a biotech hub, while pro-Palestine protests interrupted Lamont’s speech.
Olha Yarynich, Contributing Photographer
HARTFORD — Feb. 7 marked the first day of the 2024 Connecticut legislative session. The main agenda item of the shortened 13-week session is adjustments to the $26 billion annual state budget for fiscal year 2025, which starts in July.
The House and Senate convened in the Connecticut State Capitol at 10 a.m. At the session’s commencement, Speaker of the House Matthew Ritter, a Democrat, called upon his colleagues to embrace mutual understanding during the session.
“I’m not asking anybody in this chamber to ever limit your views and your passion. Fight for the things you believe in,” Ritter said. “But I asked you not to fight each other. Because I don’t think many of you really understand what your colleagues are going through.”
Ritter pointed out that several members of the House have been battling cancer, or coping with the grief of losing spouses and grandfathers — all within the last three months.
In the chamber, many legislators, predominantly women, were wearing pink attire. Representative Mary Welander explained that this choice of color palette was a deliberate symbol of solidarity with all of the women serving in the legislature.
“We have so many women who have demonstrated such an immense level of personal strength and resilience over this last year, and we just wanted to salute you by wearing that color pink,” Welander said.
Lamont delivers State of the State address
The first day of the legislative session culminated in a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly, where Gov. Ned Lamont delivered his annual State of the State address.
Lamont began his speech by reminding everyone about the recent successes of the Assembly. He proudly emphasized that Connecticut is different from peer states in that the budget, passed last year on a bipartisan basis, is leading to a surplus for the state.
“People are noticing. Unlike our neighboring states which are losing population, Connecticut has gained population over the last few years,” Lamont said.
The governor went on to detail the state’s appealing attributes, from a business-friendly environment to supportive conditions for labor unions, that residents have come to appreciate.
Lamont’s speech, however, was interrupted by a group of pro-Palestine protests. Around the time when Lamont began his speech, a group of protestors gathered in the hall outside of the House of Representatives Chamber and could be heard inside the chamber.
Then, a group of people sitting in the gallery started chanting “Ceasefire Now,” forcing Lamont to stop his speech. The protestors were quickly escorted from the building by the Capitol police.
“On a personal note, I’ve been to a few anti-war demonstrations as well in my day and whatever the justice of your cause I think you do a disservice when you are rude and disrespectful,” Lamont said of the demonstration before continuing his speech.
The first session of the Connecticut General Assembly was held around the time when the Senate in Washington, D.C. was voting on legislation that would send $17.6 billion in military aid to Israel.
Lamont referred to his plans to cancel $650 million worth of medical debt for an estimated 250,000 eligible Connecticut residents.
The governor also emphasized that the budget provides the biggest commitment to child care in “Connecticut history” — an additional $90 million next year alone, providing additional pay for early childhood educators and higher reimbursements for care centers and family care homes.
According to Lamont, the biennial budget doubles investment in housing — workforce housing, affordable housing, supportive housing, elder housing and downtown apartments. This is supposed to allow people to move to the state, where he said an estimated 90,000 jobs are open.
Governor Lamont addressed the high costs associated with Connecticut’s local governance structure, which sprawls across 169 towns and 200 school districts.
Lamont made a proposal to enhance the operational flexibility of Councils of Governments, regional planning organizations that serve as centers of regional collaboration. This plan would allow COGs to employ tax assessors, building inspectors, purchasing agents and IT specialists on an as-needed contractual basis rather than towns bearing the cost of full-time salaries.
“The cost of dealing with climate change is expensive, the cost of doing nothing is immeasurable,” Lamont warned.
He highlighted that Connecticut recently doubled down on the percentage of energy that is produced by wind, solar and hydropower. Now, according to the governor, he is working with neighboring governors to develop a new generation of clean energy with an emphasis on affordability, though he did not provide further details.
Lamont praised advancements in technology, highlighting the collaboration between the University of Connecticut and Yale on using a federal grant to create quantum computing jobs. He emphasized how quantum technologies could enhance biotech sector capabilities, enabling more efficient, comprehensive clinical trials.
“Now, we can accelerate the growth in life sciences, starting with funding for a world-class biotech hub in New Haven,” Lamont said.
Lamont emphasized that quantum technologies could enhance biotech sector capabilities, enabling more efficient, comprehensive clinical trials.
Among other ideas, Lamont proposed addressing teacher shortages by expanding the state’s Ed Rising program, where high school-age students help out in elementary classrooms, and increasing grants for state colleges and UConn.
While the governor made numerous proposals for his spending package, the Connecticut House and Senate will have 13 weeks to review the proposals and make amendments to the legislation.
“We are obviously going to be very respectful of his proposals. But they are proposals. We write the law,” said Patricia Dillon, a state representative from the 92nd district, which encompasses part of western New Haven.
The 2024 legislative session will adjourn on May 8.