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Connecticut Legislative Meltdown Results in 40 Bills Dying

Failures were due to a communication breakdown between the Democratic co-chairmen of the General Assembly’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee. It was the first time that a legislative committee failed to approve any legislation.

An apparent meltdown between the Democratic co-chairmen of the Connecticut General Assembly's Insurance and Real Estate Committee resulted in the expiration Thursday, March 21, of about 40 pending bills on the panel's deadline day.

It's the first time in memory that a legislative committee failed to approve any legislation.

Capitol observers called it an embarrassing, unprecedented example of the committee's dysfunction and the possible tension between third-term state Rep. Kerry Wood of Rocky Hill and Sen. Jorge Cabrera, a second-term lawmaker whose district includes Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Derby, Naugatuck, Woodbridge and his hometown of Hamden.

And while seemingly dead legislation can often be revived until the last minute in the annual General Assembly sessions, for practical purposes resurrecting insurance bills from that committee could jeopardize other pending legislation approved in other committee.

Cabrera, said he will work for similar bills to win approval during the upcoming weeks of the legislature. "Unfortunately we were unable to come to an agreement on bills to take action upon but I will continue to fight for the important policies heard by the Insurance Committee, especially issues involving mental health," he said in a mid-afternoon statement.

Wood down-played the failure of the committee to vote on any legislation. "We heard a lot of bills in public hearings," Wood said in a phone interview Thursday morning. "There was just a disagreement in agendas. There are a lot insurance bills going through other committees. I will continue to fight to get things done. We just couldn't meet the deadline. We want to help businesses and farmers." She would also like to approve a bill for downloadable driving-monitor apps to rein in reckless driving.

State Sen. Saud Anwar, D- South Windsor, vice chairman of the committee, said he was disappointed by the cancellation of Thursday's meeting. "This is a missed opportunity and will leave important issues unaddressed for the rest of this session," said Anwar, a physician who serves on four other committees and is co-chairman of the Public Health Committee. "I can't speak directly to why the meeting was canceled but I will remain focused on delivering results in all of my committees."

Sources said that Wood's opposition to a Senate bill on mental health resulted in her canceling two meetings that had been scheduled this week to act on bills before the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline for committee action. But Wood denied it was the cause.

The current legislative sessions deadlines vary among the 26 legislative committees between March 14 and April 5, as the General Assembly heads to its midnight May 8 deadline.

State Sen. Tony Hwang of Fairfield, a ranking Republican on the committee, said Thursday that while he was disappointed to not have the chance to debate the pending bills, he feels even worse that the committee let down residents who looked for the General Assembly's help in lowering insurance premiums.

"It is important for the chairs to sign off on an agenda, but ultimately the only people who lose are the people who are impacted by health care costs, insurance costs," Hwang said in an interview. "Even the governor's bill never got a vote." One now-dead bill was aimed at helping retired police afford insurance. Another would have helped farmers in the Farmington Valley who suffered massive crop damage in flooding last year, he said.

"The losers are the advocates for those bills, the experts who testified, the constituents who tried to voice their opinion," Hwang said. "We've punted on this. Another bill, prompted by a Hearst Connecticut Media report on a scam involving a house in Fairfield, was aimed at stopping fraud.

Fifth-term state Rep. Cara Pavalock-D'Amato of Bristol, another ranking Republican on the committee, said she believes that Democratic senators on the committee would not agree to agenda items for final action, including agency prerogatives and Gov. Ned Lamont's budget proposal, aimed at lowering prescription drug prices.

"I think that's pretty insulting to the governor," said Pavalock-D'Amato, a lawyer. "To not have anything coming out is disappointing. I wasn't in the room to hear the discussion among Democrats, so I don't really know."

Julia Bergman, Lamont's spokeswoman, said the governor was also disappointed by the committee's failure.

"The governor believes that Connecticut is home to some of the highest quality health care systems in the world, but too many people cannot afford to access that care," Bergman said in a Thursday afternoon statement. "That's why he put forward a proposal this legislative session to address some of the largest drivers of health care costs including prescription drugs and hospital inpatient and outpatient expenses."

"A lot of this comes down to ideological and philosophical disagreements over insurance," said House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D- East Hartford. "This doesn't mean that no insurance bills will be done."

He pointed out that existing bills can be amended and added to include Insurance and Real Estate Committee legislation. Since dozens of bills had public hearings, it may be technically easy to add them.

"It's a very complex place with people who have a lot of opinions," he said. "Sometimes they get to point where there is no agreement. There's a first time for everything. I think cooler heads will prevail and we'll find a way to work."

Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D- Hartford, said that for practical purposes, amending other legislation to fit Insurance Committee bills that expired, could result in prolonged debates and questioning from Republicans, who are a 97-54 minority in the House and are down 24-12 in the Senate.

"Clearly the committee was not able to put the pieces together," Ritter said in a Thursday morning phone interview. "I have respect for the committees and co-chairs. I don't like to see any of the committees do this. We'll try to figure out a way to right the ship. In the General Assembly there are a lot of strong personalities, a lot of opinions. That's not unusual. This is not the first time there has been problems. Most insurance issues are federally regulated."

The May 8 legislative adjournment deadline means that Democratic leaders want to avoid long debate, Ritter noted.

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R- North Branford, like other leaders, could not remember such a committee meltdown. He joked that he wished other Democratic-dominated committees would fail to move bills to the House or Senate. He said that House Republicans did not have any caucus priorities in the Insurance Committee. "There isn't always friction between Democrats and Republicans. Sometimes there is friction between Democrats."

Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, was among those who believed that the mental health parity bill, which Cabrera supported, was the cause of the break between Cabrera and Wood. "I've never seen anything like this," said Swan, a long-time advocate and lobbyist at the State Capitol.

(c)2024 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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