Sunday, February 10, 2008

Video update with goals for the legislative session.

Here is a video update I recorded last December. For a number of reasons, I never got it uploaded until just now. But, if you will forgive the reference to the holiday season, most the discussion is still very relevant...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Introducing and raising bills...the legislative process begins.

Today I was working hard at the Capitol to get legislation I support started.

There are a couple of different ways that bills can be brought up in the legislature, which are useful for different types of legislation.

First, there is legislation that individual legislators or groups of legislators may introduce. In the odd-numbered years (like last year, 2007), these bills can be about any topic. In even numbered years (like this year, 2008), only certain budgetary bills can be introduced by individual legislators.

Second, there are bills that are introduced by a vote of a legislative committee. These can be about any topic, no matter whether it is and even or odd-numbered year.

I have introduced a few individual-legislator bills this year, and I am working to get committees to vote to introduce a number of other ones. When these bills actually come out with their bills numbers, I will describe them and why they are good ideas.

Now, already, three of the four legislative committees of which I am a member have met to "raise" bills. On opening day, Wednesday, the Public Health Committee met. Today, the Judiciary and Education committees met. Each voted to introduce a number of bills.

However, aside from the titles of these bills, there are few details worked out. The chairpersons of the committees will work with attorneys assigned to each committee to write the proposed legislation out in full, legal form. After that, the legislation is brought before the full committee for a public hearing, when the public can comment on it, and it can be amended and voted up or down by the full committee.

Another item to keep in mind is that when individual-legislator bills first come out officially, they are called "proposed bills". They are not written in official legal text, just a quick paragraph describing the intent of the legislation. Proposed bills are referred to legislative committees, and only continue through the legislative process if the committees they are referred to vote to "raise" them. Like bills introduced by the committee, itself, causes the legislative attorneys actually write them into legal form and for the bill to be presented at a public hearing and possibly considered by the committee for approval.

I hope this description of the some of early stages of the legislative process in informative.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Opening day at the Capitol.

Today was opening day of the 2008 regular legislative session. Opening day at the Capitol is always a day for ceremony and speeches. Today was no exception.

It was also the day for the Governor to give her annual state of the state speech and present her proposed budget and other ideas to the legislature. Governor Rell is a kindly and reassuring speaker, certainly good qualities.

The substance of her proposals were not very strong, though. For example, it looks like her budget proposal would hold education aid for New Britain to $4.3 million* less than in the bold education and property tax relief plan she proposed just last year. (That is, her proposal for fiscal year 2008-09.) With New Britain homeowners facing a revaluation this year, that $4.3 million would have been very helpful to support education while keeping people's property taxes down.

Her plan would provide Newington with $1.3 million* less than her education proposal from last year. While Newington just went through a revaluation, that money would have been very important for the Town Council to support local schools while holding the line on property taxes.

By her budget speech, it looks like she has no intention of approving a budget that comes even close to her proposals from last year, so it looks like her decision will keep municipal aid levels lower than I would like them to be.

While I am proud of increasing municipal aid to keep property taxes down and support important local services, like education. But, while fighting for these practical things to help property tax payers, I have been pressing for real property tax reform, to finally address the unfairnesses of the property tax system that place such an unfairly high burden on so many people. That is why I wrote a comprehensive property tax reform plan, which for a while was the only comprehensive plan being considered at the Capitol.

Fortunately, the interest in taking action on property tax reform has been gaining at the Capitol. A good sign is that Gov. Rell - who once referred to the call for property tax reform as a "false cry" - is offering her own proposals. Her proposals are lacking, but it is a good sign that she is talking about this issue.

Specifically, rather than addressing the unfairness of how we fund local services, if you read between the lines her plan is reduce local services, and lower working people's incomes.

If Gov. Rell's "tax cap" idea sounds too good to be true, it is because it is. Almost everyone I talk with about is asks me if her plan is really to keep property tax increases down to 3% per year. People in New Britain are asking this because of the very real concern that the recent property tax revaluation will cause their property taxes to go up significantly.

But that is not what Gov. Rell's plan is. If her plan is the same as last year's, it would do nothing to keep homeowners from getting hit with a huge revaluation-driven property tax increase. I asked her budget director this in a public Finance Committee hearing, and that is exactly what he said. I told him that the Governor's idea missed the real impact on homeowners, since New Britain's mill rate has been dropping, due mostly to increasing state aid. The revaluation, I pointed out is the real time when homeowners get hit with property tax increases.

I asked him if the Governor would support a plan that would actually keep homeowners' property taxes from going up more than 3% per year, and he said she would not. I really think the Governor, in all honesty, should explain that her "tax cap" would not really protect homeowners from unfair property tax increases.

However, I thank the Governor for stepping up to the plate on an issue - property tax reform - that has long been close to my heart. I will take her at her word that she is interested in finding a compromise that will really address the problems with our unfair property tax system.

*Correction February 8, 2008: When I first wrote this post, the numbers I cited were $8 million for New Britain and $3 million for Newington. Technically this is correct, comparing the Governor's budget proposals from this year and last, but municipal aid numbers sometimes leave the bottom line between different years and different proposal an apples-to-oranges comparison. That was the case, here. I realized that that the lower numbers, above, are fairer to the Governor, so I made these corrections. Sorry for the confusion. That said, the $4.3 million less for New Britain and the $1.3 million less for Newington are certainly significantly less than the Governor's proposal from last year, to which I wish she would hold her commitment.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Working on legislation for 2008.

Things are getting busier at the Capitol in the run-up to the start of the 2008 legislative session.

I am working on legislation I would like to have introduced. I will write in the future about some of that legislation.

An interesting thing to note about this year's legislative session is that the State Constitution prevents individual legislators from introducing legislation other than certain budget bills. It is an arcane rule. Here is a description of it:


The State Constitution and the Legislature's Joint Rules restrict the introduction of bills and resolutions during even-year sessions to the following:
  • By Individual Members: Bills and resolutions that relate to budgetary, revenue or financial matters

  • By Committees: Bills and resolutions on any subject

  • By Legislative Leaders: Bills and resolutions certified as emergencies by the Speaker and President Pro Tempore
The Legislative Commissioners' Office is permitted to draft only those bills and resolutions that meet these requirements. To help members determine whether a proposal is constitutionally permitted, these guidelines are issued before each even-year session. Legislative leadership has approved these guidelines over the years.

The legislative history of the constitutional provision clearly indicates an intent by the General Assembly to allow proposed bills and resolutions by members only if the "principal purpose" relates to budgetary, revenue or financial matters.

1) Types Of Bills That Individual Members May Introduce:
  1. Revenue bills or bills directly affecting state revenues - e.g., the imposition, increase or reduction of a tax or fee.
  1. Appropriation bills relating to existing agencies or programs - e.g., an increase or decrease in the amount of the prior year's appropriation for an existing agency or program.
  1. Bills authorizing bonds for an existing program.
  1. Bills whose principal purpose is to save the state money.
2) Types Of Bills That Individual Members May Not Introduce:
  1. Bills establishing a new agency or program, even if they carry or require an appropriation.

b) Bills without any fiscal impact, even if they may have a fiscal impact in the future.

c) Bills concerned solely with local finances or taxes, unless their passage would have a direct effect on state finances.

Simply adding a tax, fee, or appropriation to a bill that is not on a budgetary, revenue or financial matter does not make the bill constitutionally permissible. (See above re the "principal purpose" requirement.)

If LCO cannot prepare a proposed bill for a member based on these guidelines, we will suggest that the member talk with the appropriate committee about raising a bill on the subject.

Prepared by Legislative Commissioners' Office
Anyway, the result is that, for the most part, the legislation I am trying to bring before the legislature on behalf of the people I represent must be introduced by committees instead of by me, individually.

This might sound like a big difference, but it is really not. The reality is that legislation never goes anywhere without the support of committees, so this only requires obtaining support of committee chairpersons for my ideas sooner in the legislative session that I had to last year.