Advocates See Special Session As 2Nd Chance For Their Issues

Advocates for different causes are hoping to get a second chance at passing a bill or securing funding in the new state budget as the Connecticut General Assembly prepares to return to the Capitol for a short special session this week.

The list runs the gamut from climate change groups who want lawmakers to take up a multi-jurisdictional initiative that attempts to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to those who support helping people who are terminally ill to die.

“Although the odds here may be small, we owe it to those faced with terminal illness to explore every opportunity to pass this legislation,” read an email from the group Compassion and Choices, which urged its supporters to reach out to state legislators and ask them to take up the bill in special session. The Senate is scheduled to convene Tuesday and the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Such requests are in addition to the legislature's original plan to vote this week on a massive bill that legalizes the adult use of cannabis and a bill that spells out details of the new two-year budget. Both bills were not passed before the June 9 deadline. The budget bill, known as “the implementer,” is often used as a tool to pass bills and concepts that didn't make it earlier in the session.

“I've been on the phone, non-stop — the phone or Zoom,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, the co-chair of the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee, when asked about fielding budget requests.

On Monday, officials from community-based nonprofit agencies that provide mental health and addiction service urged lawmakers to find them about $75 million in additional funding over two years. They noted how a recent settlement Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont reached with unionized workers at group homes for people with disabilities did not help their agencies, which provide behavioral health care services.

“We are not saying the others should not have received their increase,” said Gian Carl Casa, president and CEO of Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance. “They deserve the funding that they’re getting. We’re just saying that the state has the means to provide for behavioral health providers as well.”

Roughly $400 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to the state were not spent in the new, two-year $46.3 billion budget that was approved last week. Osten said Monday that about $200 million of the remaining $400 million has been earmarked since the legislature adjourned its regular session. For example, she said $50 million over two years will be added to the nonprofit agencies that provide behavioral health and addiction services.

“I have it cobbled together for $25 million in year one and $25 million in year two to help out,” she said. “They are getting other payments within the confines of the budget already. So it’s pretty complicated.”

Additionally, Osten said an additional $10 million has been set aside for nursing homes with a client base that is heavily reliant on Medicaid patients. Also, she said about $22.5 million is set aside to provide certain state employees and members of the Connecticut National Guard with special compensation for working during the height of the pandemic, while about $70 million was added to workforce development initiatives.

“You start adding in $70 million here and $70 million there, it eats away a lot of that ($400 million in leftover federal funds),” Osten said.