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The session may be over, but lawmakers still have more work

HARTFORD — Connecticut’s 2019 regular legislative session may be in the history books, but that doesn’t mean the work of state lawmakers is finished...
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HARTFORD — Connecticut’s 2019 regular legislative session may be in the history books, but that doesn’t mean the work of state lawmakers is finished for the year.

Legislators face a strong possibility of returning to the state Capitol for multiple special sessions this summer and fall.

“I don’t think we have a part-time legislature, at least for the leaders, anymore,” said Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin, adding how much of the anticipated post-session work will involve a handful of lawmakers, not the full General Assembly.

Legislators already plan to reconvene for a likely one-day vote on bills that authorize borrowing for various capital improvement projects, including school construction. And Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has made it clear he wants lawmakers to finally vote on a plan to generate additional transportation revenue, most likely one that includes electronic highway tolls.

Lawmakers also expect they’ll return to approve a yet-to-be-finalized agreement Lamont reached with the Connecticut Hospital Association to settle a 2015 lawsuit over a state hospital tax.

Meanwhile, there’s still a chance that a wide-ranging deal on expanded gambling in Connecticut, one that could possibly include sports betting, internet gambling, and a Bridgeport casino, could be reached in the coming months. If that happens, expect legislators to make yet another trip to the capital city.

A look at what to expect during the post-session season:
Lamont has staked a lot of his new political capital on passing a tolling bill, insisting that Connecticut’s economic future depends on a new reliable revenue source that can deliver about $800 million more a year. The former businessman, who first took office in January, has become a target for criticism from toll opponents who argue they’re already being taxed too much.
Lamont has shown no signs of giving up on the idea.

“Tolls will be part of a special session. We’ll make that happen,” the governor said, adding how his administration plans to meet with legislative leaders, both Democratic and Republican, in the next couple of weeks to work collaboratively on a retooled plan.

“At the end of the day, I’m not going to let people avoid a tough vote because it’s the most important thing we can do to get this state moving,” Lamont said.

It’s unclear how much Lamont is willing to compromise on this issue. Last month, he released a working draft of a 24-page transportation bill that he said provided a “solid foundation from which to build upon” during special session on tolls.

It called for no more than 50 tolling gantries on Interstates 84, 91, 95 and parts of Route 15 and the creation of a new Connecticut Transportation Commission, which would be charged with setting toll rates during peak and off-peak times and for different types of vehicles.

On Friday, Democratic House Majority Leader Matt Ritter of Hartford raised the possibility of tolling just bridges.

“People have ideas and these are things you have to flush out and talk about,” he said.

The grassroots group “No Tolls CT” has urged its members to remain vigilant.

“Thank you all for helping to win the Regular Session skirmish, but the battle continues,” the group tweeted on Wednesday, the last night of the regular session. “Enjoy this moment tonight, tomorrow we are right back at it. Stay connected, informed & engaged, we still have a long ways to go.”
Lamont said he’s still working on the idea of reaching a wide-ranging gambling bill that doesn’t jeopardize the state’s 25 percent share of the slot machine revenues from Connecticut’s two tribal casinos. Lamont had tried to reach an agreement with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes for much of the session, but to no avail.

But he appeared uncertain about whether something can be ready for a special session, calling a last-minute push for a tribal casino in Bridgeport involving the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans “a little half-baked” at this point in time.

Aresimowicz, who was instrumental in getting Bridgeport officials to talk with the tribes, said he’s not giving up on the idea, so long as the state’s other existing gambling entities are involved.

“If there’s an agreed-upon product, we can call ourselves in, or the governor can call us in.
Various advocates are hoping to revive some bills that failed in the regular session, such as a wide-ranging election reform bill sought by Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and a Democratic health care bill that originally called for a public health insurance option — the “Connecticut Option” — but was scaled back and would have allowed state officials to seek federal permission to import less-expensive medications from Canada.

Democratic leaders were skeptical about whether those issues will be revisited before the next regular legislative session convenes in February, given the controversy surrounding the bills.
“The Senate did not run it for a reason,” Aresimowicz said of the election bill. “Clearly everybody’s not on the same page.”