May 10, 2018

As clock strikes 12, minimum wage among legislative casualties

The General Assembly's regular session ended Wednesday night without the Democratic legislative leadership delivering on a promised progressive agenda of a livable wage, paid family medical leave and an overhaul of state laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Those were among the dozens of bills to die at midnight, a list that included a measure that would have legalized sports betting, contingent on the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a current federal ban. A study of expanding casino gambling passed the House, but never came to a vote in the Senate.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy opened the session in February by promising to help fellow Democrats raise the minimum wage, broaden a paid sick-day law passed at his insistence in 2011, address sexual harassment and take a stand on pay equity as acts of "Connecticut fairness." Democratic legislative leaders endorsed similar bills the same week in "a values agenda."

Only the pay equity bill, which places Connecticut in the growing ranks of states that bar employers from asking applicants about their pay history, cleared the legislature and will reach the governor's desk. The "Times Up Act," an overhaul of sexual harassment and assault laws, passed the Senate with much acclaim Friday, but stalled in the House.

The failure to pass legislation raising the $10.10 minimum wage was a reflection of the shrinking Democratic majority in Hartford, questionable tactics by sponsors and a reluctance by leaders in both chambers to call a vote. But as recently as Tuesday night, leaders were holding out the possibility of calling a revised version of the bill for a vote in the House.

The original bill was among the most aggressive in the nation. It would have raised the minimum wage to $15 in three big jumps: From $10.10 to $12 in 2019, to $13.50 in 2020, and to $15 in 2021. A national campaign for a $15 minimum wage aims for 2024.

The advocates offered two compromises, first extending the timetable for getting to $15 by two years, from 2021 to 2023. But that version drew support from only 64 of the 79 Democrats in the House, according to Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden.

Elliott said a more modest proposal that would have raised the minimum by one dollar in each of the next two years was supported by 75 Democrats, exactly half the members of a chamber with 79 Democrats, 71 Republicans and one vacant seat. Backers say they think passage was likely in the House if leaders had called a vote.

Elliott confronted House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz over his refusal to call a vote, a confrontation he related in a video posted on his Facebook page. In the same video, he said he apologized to the speaker.

"I'm loud and I'm ideological," Elliott said an interview Wednesday night. "Loud is maybe better politically, but it's really bad legislatively."

In the evenly divided Senate, one of the 18 Democrats, Joan V. Hartley of Waterbury, never committed to any increase in the minimum wage. She was the only Senate Democrat to vote against the 2014 law, which raised the minimum in steps to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.

Backers of a higher minimum wage said they stuck too long with hopes of getting votes for a bill that would have gone to $15.

"We ran out of time. I think we waited too long," said Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee. "There was a lot of give and take, having to go back and forth to make the bill palatable. As Democrats, I thought $15 was where we wanted to be."

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the leadership deferred to the advocates, giving them time to negotiate a compromise and find the votes.

"I think that looking back on it, we maybe should have pivoted earlier from $15 to $12," Ritter said. "That might be the biggest mistake we made. By the time we had gotten to $12, it was Friday of last week. It was late."

The paid family medical leave bill, which essentially would have created an employee-funded program for covering employees who lost work to care for family members, was sideline weeks ago as progressives focused on the minimum wage. A bill proposed by the governor to expand the reach of the 2011 law that required certain private employers to offer paid sick time never reached the floor.

The Times Up Act would have eliminated the statute of limitations for prosecuting many serious sexual assaults, bringing Connecticut in line with most other states, and impose new training standards to address sexual harassment in the workplace. But House members objected to the total elimination of the statute of limitations, and the bill never came to a vote.

Casino expansion

A bill that would mandate a study of locating a new casino in Connecticut — possibly one not operated by the Mashantucket Pequot or Mohegan tribes — died on the Senate calendar.

But one of the measure's chief proponents, Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said getting the bill successfully through the House was a huge victory in itself.

"We're so proud of the work the Bridgeport and New Haven delegations did as allies to move this," Rosario said. "People laughed at us and said it was a pipe dream."

The bill, which the House passed 77-73 last week, technically would have invited potential developers to pitch a new casino project for any community.

But many advocates said the bill particularly was aimed at assessing interest in developing a new casino in Bridgeport, the state's largest city and one of its poorest.

Sports betting and online lottery sales

Despite a push from Democratic leadership in both chambers, a bill that could launch Connecticut's own sports betting industry died on the Senate calendar.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks on a case contesting a national law restricting sports betting.

Arguing that legalization of sports betting was a likely outcome, several lawmakers here backed a measure that would authorize tribal casinos in southeastern Connecticut, licensed off-track betting facilities and the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to offer sports betting. The Department of Consumer Protection also would have the authority to license new providers.

Early voting

The Senate did not take up a resolution passed by the House that would have eventually placed a referendum on the ballot asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing early voting.

There also were last-day successes

Limits on Hartford bailout

The House gave final approval to a bill that effectively limits the state's financial bailout of Hartford, as well as any future municipal bailouts, to no more than five years. The bill passed 105 to 45.

Crumbling foundations

The Senate voted 19 to 17 for final passage of a bill that would impose a $12 annual surcharge on homeowners' insurance policies, contributing about $9.3 million annually to a relief fund for residents facing complicated repairs costing as much as $250,000. Affected homes must be raised, allowing the removal and replacement of the crumbling foundations.

Preserving public lands

The House gave final approval to a resolution that places a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November. It is intended to protect parkland and other public property.

With limited exceptions, it would prohibit the legislature from requiring a state agency to sell, transfer, or otherwise dispose of real property or an interest in real property to non-state entities. Sales could be made only after a public hearing and passage of special legislation by a two-thirds margin.

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