HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Connecticut’s Democratic-controlled General Assembly passed protections for abortion providers and gave more power to libraries facing book issues – and they did it with Republican support .
All but 13 Republicans voted for the two-year, $51 billion state budget and a handful even voted for a major gun control bill that is already being challenged in court.
Countering partisan rancor seen in other legislatures this year, Connecticut lawmakers wrapped up Wednesday night in what was one of the most bipartisan legislative sessions in recent memory. And they credit old-fashioned relationship building, a willingness to compromise, a healthy budget surplus and a strict adjournment deadline.
“Oregon hasn’t met in a month because the senators just left the building. Think about it,” Democratic House Speaker Matthew Ritter said hours before Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont addressed lawmakers in a traditional midnight speech, congratulating them on a “job well done” and for their collaborative work.
“We talked about it. We’ve tried to create a culture in the House where people have to learn to compromise, not just with Republicans, but with each other in their caucus,” Ritter said. “We insisted that people sit down , are working on it.”
Ritter, who acknowledged that the state’s strict session deadline also forces the part-time Legislature to compromise, took a moment in the final hours Tuesday evening to praise his members for their collegiality and commitment to the public service during a time of “conflict and division” in the country. He credited them for not reflecting “the antics, the disagreements, the un-American way of governing that took over our land” and for working together even when they disagreed.
“We sent a message saying there’s a way to do it and we’re going to do it again next year,” Ritter said to cheers and applause.
Besides Oregon, where hundreds of bills are languishing in partisan gridlock, there have been instances of divisiveness this year across the country. Lawmakers expelled colleagues from Tennessee and barred a representative from the Montana House floor.
By contrast, Connecticut Democrats and Republicans were still celebrating strong bipartisan support for the budget finalized on Tuesday on Wednesday, though there were some disagreements over spending levels for nonprofit social service agencies and how much to pay. tax cuts.
“It was probably the most supportive session,” said Republican Eric Berthel, who has represented the Senate’s most conservative district since 2017. The Senate’s top Republican from the Budget Drafting and Education Committees, Berthel said that he felt comfortable defending his vote to his constituents. , even if they could blame him for having voted for a budget also supported by the Democrats.
However, Berthel acknowledges that if Connecticut didn’t have a robust surplus, things might be different.
Republican Rep. David Rutigliano, who helped craft a bipartisan bill this year that fixes Connecticut’s recreational marijuana law, which he and other GOP lawmakers opposed in 2021, said he had learned from top House Republican and Democratic leaders, who are on good terms, that relationship building is key, especially for a minority Republican.
“They tell us if you want to do something, you have to have a relationship. You can’t do a lot of tricks. You can’t be some kind of jerk and you have to speak up,” he said. “Look, (Democrats) are in charge, we get it. But it’s better when you’re in the bedroom. Our ideas are not all bad.”
Despite talk of bipartisanship this session, there were mostly partisan votes, including on election-related issues and guns.
And not all advocates are thrilled with this year’s policy compromises, particularly on the state budget. Groups working on behalf of low-income workers argue that the plan, which was limited by a spending cap, is starving residents who are still struggling financially with the pandemic.
“Fairness has its merits, but when it comes at the expense of real workers, from our perspective, it becomes problematic,” said Pastor Rodney Wade, a member of Recovery for All, a coalition of labor unions, religious groups and other community organizations. . He points to how striking group home workers, many of whom are racial minorities holding multiple jobs, picketed the state Capitol during the final days of the legislative session in search of “wage decent,” but he thinks the issue hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
“If the goal is just to have a budget, then I think the state of Connecticut has missed the mark,” he said.
The desire for bipartisanship has watered down some initiatives, said Sarah Ganong, state director of the left-leaning Connecticut Working Families Party. For example, a proposal to raise the age limit for Medicaid health insurance for immigrant children without legal status from 12 to 26 was lowered to 15.
“On the surface, maybe it looks like some sort of bipartisan compromise,” she said. “But for a 17-year-old who doesn’t have healthcare at the moment, that’s not really a middle ground. It’s clearly picking a side.
This story has been corrected to show that Senator Eric Berthel is serving his fourth term, not his ninth.