Earlier absentee ballot processing on special session agenda

Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday officially called Connecticut lawmakers back to the state Capitol for a special session next week to consider bills that could lead to changes in how public utilities are regulated and allow local election officials to start processing absentee ballots a little earlier.

The General Assembly is scheduled to begin its second special legislative session in recent months on Tuesday. The House and Senate are expected to meet separately on different days to help reduce the number of people at the Capitol, given the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on bills concerning 10 issues, as well as four judicial nominations, including Appellate Judge Christine Keller, Lamont's choice to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, questioned the need to bring so many people to the Capitol after seeing the agenda, calling it “a disappointing display of one-party rule and partisan politics.” He noted there's “nothing on the agenda dealing with the pandemic, public health or the immediate needs in the middle of the crisis.”

Advocates for the elderly, for example, have called on lawmakers to enact changes at nursing homes in light of the large number of COVID-19 deaths.

Lamont said he believes it's important to pass legislation to help ensure the November election runs smoothly, given the massive number of absentee ballots that are expected to be submitted. In the last special session, the General Assembly voted to allow concerns about contracting COVID-19 as a valid excuse for requesting an absentee ballot.

Under this latest proposal, Lamont said legislators will consider allowing local election officials to begin processing absentee ballots on the Friday before Election Day, including checking signatures and making sure the ballots ready to be counted.

During the last special session, in advance of the August primary, state lawmakers agreed only to allow local officials to begin opening the absentee ballots at 6 a.m. instead of the usual 11 a.m. to give them some extra time.

“There's going to be 10, 20 times more absentee ballots than we've ever had before,” Lamont said. “And I want to put everybody's mind at ease and give the registrars all the flexibility they need to make sure we can count these votes on a timely and accurate basis.”

In the wake of widespread and lengthy power failures after a tropical storm hit the state in August, lawmakers will consider a proposal that could eventually lead new state “performance-based" regulations of electricity, gas, and water companies that would set certain benchmarks that would have to be met.

Other issues on the agenda deal with school construction funding, a law that regulates the transfer for certain polluted properties, rules for hemp growers and manufacturers, protections for certain construction workers, and loans for homeowners with crumbling foundations.