- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - State lawmakers reached a midnight deadline to close out an election-year legislative session marked by disagreement over whether Connecticut’s economy is finally improving after the recession.

Moments after adjournment, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made it clear he plans to run on the accomplishments of the past several months, saying he and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly did “great work together” and that it “represents real change that will benefit the state now and into the future.”

Malloy highlighted legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017, an increase in local education funding for the fourth consecutive year and continued funding for school security and mental health initiatives in the wake of the Newtown school massacre.

Wednesday, the final day of the legislative session, was marked by a series of tributes to retiring lawmakers and a lengthy debate in the House of Representatives over whether to impose a temporary moratorium on waste from hydraulic fracturing coming into the state, a bill that eventually passed during a last-minute flurry of activity.

Despite the final rush, lawmakers already had a key piece of legislation in place, the revised $19 billion state budget agreement crafted by legislative Democrats and Malloy. The deal was reached after they learned a projected $500 million surplus had plunged to $43.4 million, money deposited in the Rainy Day Fund. That drop prompted Malloy to nix his proposed $55-per-person rebate, as well as an additional $100 million payment to the state’s retirement fund.

Many Republicans said the surprise revenue decline highlighted the state’s continued financial problems, with House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr. comparing the budget to “a house built on a faulty foundation.” But the legislature’s majority Democrats and Malloy argued the state is now on the right track.

“If you compare where we were three years ago to where we are now, our revenues are up, there are over 70,000 new jobs, we have a balanced budget and I think we’re in a very strong position to grow,” said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, calling the revenue drop “a momentary glitch.”

Sharkey said the legislature this year also built upon the “seeds” planted three years ago: financial investments in education, economic development, job creation and tax reform.

Among the key bills, the legislature approved a $400 million tax credit deal the Malloy administration reached with United Technologies Corp. to keep the state’s largest private sector employer in Connecticut for years to come. There also is continued funding for economic development and education, including money for more than 1,000 new preschool slots and grants to help districts renovate space to accommodate preschoolers.

Lawmakers tackled many non-budgetary issues this session, including new legislation that attempts to address and prevent sexual assault on college campuses. The bill came in the wake of a group of current and former female University of Connecticut students who came to the legislature to tell their stories of being sexually assaulted.

This session, the General Assembly also voted to reform the state’s family court and guardian systems, expand eligibility for elderly renters assistance, overhaul the state’s largest regional trash authority, impose new standards for pet shop owners, expand the use of ignition interlock devices for those charged with drunken driving, boost state recycling, and require more transparency in consumers’ electric bills.

Besides Malloy’s rebate, other proposals died this session, including an effort to allow physicians to prescribe medication to help terminally ill people take their own lives.

Late Wednesday, some key bills appeared to be in limbo. But at the last minute, both chambers passed a massive 260-section bill that spells out the details of the state budget.

Included in that state budget bill are details of a new college savings program for newborns, plans to develop a public retirement plan for private-sector workers, a police training course on handling incidents with people with serious mental illness, a new program to collect and dispose unwanted prescription medication, a new crime category for operating an Internet sweepstakes cafe, and a sales tax exemption for the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

The bill also includes changes to pensions for judges, an issue that cropped up after lawmakers learned several older judicial nominees would be eligible for full $100,000-a-year judicial pensions after serving only a few years on the bench.

The Senate also affirmed the decision by the State Claims Commissioner to deny Charla Nash, the Stamford woman mauled by a chimpanzee, the ability to sue the state of Connecticut for damages.

Meanwhile, the Senate failed for a second year to vote on a bill that would bring Connecticut in line with two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings concerning lengthy sentences for juvenile offenders. The legislation could affect an estimated 250 individuals currently incarcerated in the state.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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