Reporting Fran Schneidau
HARTFORD, CT (AP/CBSNewYork) - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy praised Connecticut lawmakers early Thursday for stepping up and working to help him address the state’s budget crisis. He also warned there is more work to be done, saying he plans to call a special session this fall that will focus on job creation.
Malloy resurrected the tradition of the governor addressing a joint session of the General Assembly following the adjournment of the regular legislative session. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell had skipped the tradition in recent years.
It marked the first legislative session with a Democratic governor in 20 years.
Lawmakers finished their work at midnight on Wednesday, following the annual flurry of last-minute activity and bill-passing. Cheers broke out in the House of Representatives after the last vote tally was announced for an education bill.
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Many of the major pieces of legislation had been passed already by lawmakers, including the two-year, $40.1 billion budget that takes effect on July 1 and attempts to tackle a projected $3.3 billion deficit.
Malloy thanked the legislature’s majority Democrats for their support of the bill, saying he knew it was a “tough vote.” The minority Republicans did not support the package, which raises taxes by $1.4 billion in the first year and $1.2 billion in the second.
“It was a tough vote, but it was the right vote to make,” acknowledged Malloy, who took office in January. “It’s an honest budget than ends the games of the past and puts Connecticut on the road to a better tomorrow.”
The budget relies on a two-year, $1.6 billion labor savings deal that has yet to be ratified by rank-and-file state employee union members. Malloy said he hopes the unions will approve the deal so the administration can avoid “large-scale and long-term layoffs” that would be in the thousands.
He said the deal will make state government more sustainable. The 34 bargaining units are expected to finish voting on the tentative agreement by June 24.
Besides the budget, lawmakers passed some controversial bills that have faced opposition from past Republican governors. Some generated debates that lasted as long as 11 hours.
They include decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, requiring certain employers to provide employees paid sick leave, legal protections for transgendered individuals, allowing in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants and authorizing $254 million in bonds to overhaul the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.
“We worked in cooperation. We had a lot of the same values. We ran on the same issues. The people voted for us for us for these issues and we were able to pass their concerns and make them into law,” said house Speaker Christopher Donovan (D-Meriden). “I’m very satisfied.”
But Malloy warned lawmakers there is more work to be done and said he plans to call them back to Hartford in special session to deal with the issue of job creation.
He said he is also going on another listening tour. This time, he is visiting the business community with his economic development commissioner to, “listen to and share out ideas” about ways state government can help in job creation.
Malloy held a town hall-style tour of the state earlier this year to receive input on his new budget.
“We should feel good about what we did, but we should also be mindful of how much more there is to do,” he said.
Many minority Republicans said they are disappointed with the session and the new governor, saying they expected Malloy would have been less partisan. House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr. (R-Norwalk) said the GOP expected Democrats to dominate the session, but he said Malloy’s strong activist role came as a surprise.
“This session has not only been dominated by the governor’s office, it’s been dictated by the governor’s office,” Cafero said. “It was historic in all the wrong ways. We had the largest tax increase in history; we’re the first state in the United States of America to have mandatory paid sick days.”
Chris Healy, chairman of the state Republicans, said Democrats are politically responsible for the results of this year’s session, which he called a disaster for Connecticut.
“Democrats gave Republicans the back of the hand and passed every destructive piece of legislation without a GOP vote,” he said. “The Democrats have all the power and they used it with relish. Now they own every page of it.”
The pace of Wednesday’s work ebbed and flowed. At one point, it was slowed by two bills that were ultimately approved: one that would prohibit thermal receipt or cash register receipt paper containing bisphenol-A or BPA, and a contentious land swap in Haddam that slowed debate in the afternoon. In the meantime, lawmakers had yet to finalize bills that required DNA testing of certain serious felons and provide liability protections to cities and towns with recreational lands.
While a bill that allows school officials to take action against cyber-bullies received final legislative approval in the House of Representatives, the Senate failed to vote on a bill that would allow the Department of Transportation to install tolls on Route 11, an unfinished highway that abruptly ends in Salem.
The Senate passed a bill that requires DNA testing of people arrested on serious felonies who’ve already been convicted of a serious felony, but failed to take up new qualification standards for state attorney general candidates.
Lawmakers also did not pass legislation allowing retail liquor sales on Sundays.
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