CT: 2009 Regular Session Legislative Roundup/Wrapup

This year, CTVotesCount supported several bills, opposed several bills, and took no positions on other bills related to elections and voting.  The regular session ended at midnight June 3rd with a special session likely to be  scheduled for later in June to address the budget and possibly some other issues.  In this post we will provide  our understanding of the status of bills of interest.  There may be updates as we learn more.

Finding the actual status of bills can be a challenge.  Bills are often rewritten and introduced with a new bill number.  Some bills are extensively changed or completely rewritten by amendments.  In a few cases an amendment completely changes the intent and the subject of a bill, while the bill’s title cannot be changed!

Perhaps more challenging is determining the major reasons/cause of a bill’s demise without action by one or both houses of the legislature:  Did the legislature just run out of time, with the Committee Chair and Leadership prioritizing other bills?  Was there mild support or substantial opposition?  Would one house pass the bill and the other trash it?  Would a veto by the Governor be likely?  How would a veto be viewed by the public?  Or did the bill simply need more work to make in politically acceptable or workable in practice?  We will take some educated guesses.

General Comments on the 2009 Session:

In our limited experience, this year is typical of the last few years.  Many bills are introduced.  A substantial number receive committee hearings, followed by a smaller, yet still substantial number passing committees.  But, a small subset are ever introduced and debated in either the House or the Senate.  The structure of the system provides many opportunities for members to express support or opposition to bills along with many “reasons” for hard work and support to end with no results.  Many blame partisanship, leveling  charges at one side or the other:  Democrats are blamed for a “do noting” session and Republicans are seen as “obstructionist”.   However, the system providing extended debate, in a relatively small window, at the end of the legislative session, with an absolute deadline,  makes this all (or so little) possible.

Naturally, we are relieved when bills with concepts we generally oppose or bills that have unintended consequences are not enacted one way or another.  But we are equally disappointed when important issues and  bills do not receive the attention we believe is appropriate.

Bills:

H.B. 5226 AN ACT CONCERNING THE NUMBER OF POLLING PLACES FOR A PRIMARY.
Would have allowed towns to determine polling places for a primary, greatly reducing costs.  Passed the GAE Committee but never introduced in either house.

H.B. 5903 -AN ACT CONCERNING ABSENTEE VOTING FOR MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES STATIONED OVERSEAS.
This bill would provide additional time and support for military voters to receive and return absentee ballots.  CTVotersCount and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz opposed the provisions in this bill that would have allowed risky voting via internet, fax, or email.  It was passed without discussion by the GAE Commitee, but later amended by Chairman Spallone to remove that objectionable provision.  According to the legislative web site it was not introduced for a vote in either house.

H.B. 6435 – AN ACT CONCERNING ELECTION DAY REGISTRATION AND PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT PROCEDURES.
CTVotersCount, the League of Women Voters, and Common Cause suported this bill.  It was later amended to contain risky provisions for associated ballot security.  The final version had an acceptable compromise treating associated ballots in a very similar manner to absentee ballots.  It passed the House but was never taken up in the Senate.  It was more likely than not to be vetoed by the Governor.  However, it faced perhaps an even chance for a veto to be overriden.

H.B. 6437 – AN ACT CONCERNING AN AGREEMENT AMONG THE STATES TO ELECT THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES BY NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE.
This bill would support the National Popular Vote Compact providing a back-door way for the popular election of the President.  While sounding attractive it has serious unintended consequences.  The bill was generally supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.  CTVotersCount and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz opposed the Agreement.  In early May, it squeaked by the House.   Our reading is that it has luke warm support in the Senate and might not have passed there – it then would have faced an all but guaranteed veto, with no chance of override.

H.B. 6440 – AN ACT CONCERNING CERTAIN REVISIONS TO ELECTIONS RELATED STATUTES.
This was a so called “technical bill” requested by the Secretary of the State that would have made several minor changes in the election statutes, primarily changing details of wording and substance from lever “machines” to optical scan “tabulators”.   Several groups opposed changes to loosen absentee ballot application distribution requirements – these provisions were removed.  CTVotersCount opposed changes in the audit law that would have weakened the audit coverage of races; opposed provisons that would weaken the randomness of the audit while disproportionately adding audit costs to small and medium sized towns.  We supported a provison to mandate completion of the audits within 10 business days of the election, replacing current provisions which mandate audits do not begin until 15 days after the election.  A beneficial provision was added which would have provided for enforcement of audit procedures issued by the Secretary of the State.  This bill passed the House on 5/21, but according to the legislative web site it was not introduced for a vote in the Senate.   Overall we have mixed feelings on the bill given the plusses and minuses.  We are surprised it was not passed by both houses by consent.

H.B. 6441AN ACT CONCERNING CONFIDENCE IN THE CONNECTICUT ELECTION SYSTEM.
Proposed and supported by CTVotersCount, this bill would have gone a long way to improve the integrity and efficiency of post-election audits, election results accounting, and the chain-of-custody in Connecticut. It would have closed many of the gaps identified by the Coaltion at negligible cost. We appreciate the support of our Senator and Representative (Handley and Kehoe) in initiating action.  We appreciate the introduction and hearings on the bill initiated by GAE Chair Spallone.  Unfortunately, the committee did not place a priority on the bill in this session.  Our intentions are to continue to draw attention to the inadequacy of the current law, to  propose an even more attractive bill next year, and to gather wider support.

H.J 113 – RESOLUTION AMENDING THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO ALLOW EARLY VOTING. (And No Excuse Absentee Voting)
CTVotersCount is conditionally opposed to the expansion of absentee voting and early voting.  There are integrity, security, and franchise concerns which need to be addressed.   We do not have or see solutions to these concerns for scientific and practical reasons.   This bill passed the GAE Committee but was not taken up by either house.

S.B. 909 – AN ACT CONCERNING TECHNICAL CHANGES TO ELECTION LAWS.
Supported by CTVotersCount. Technical changes proposed by the Secretary of the State’s Office.  Passed by the GAE Commitee.  Provisions largely rolled into an amendment to H.B. 6440 (see the discussion above on that bill)

S.B. 913 – AN ACT CONCERNING UNITED STATES SENATE VACANCIES
This bill would  replace appointment of U.S. Senate vacancies by the Governor with an election.  Was passed by the Senate and House.  The Governor is expected to veto the bill.  A veto override is likely. <Courant>  < CT News Junkie>

S.J. 43 – RESOLUTION PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO THE STATE CONSTITUTION CONCERNING VOTING BY ABSENTEE BALLOT.
Passed the GAE Commitee, never taken up by either house.  Provisons seem to have been rolled into H.J. 113 (see discussion under that bill above)

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