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CT Construction Digest Monday March 16, 2020

Gov. Lamont signs long-awaited bonding bill into law
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gov. Ned Lamont has signed into law a long-awaited borrowing package, which includes key funding for Connecticut cities and towns.
The bill easily cleared the General Assembly on a bipartisan vote on March 11, despite criticism from some Republican legislators that the deal negotiated between the Democratic governor and legislators spends too much.
“From investments in local education to capital projects to long overdue improvements in our state’s infrastructure, this bond package makes smart investments, all while holding the line on borrowing and maintaining our commitment to being fiscally responsible," Lamont said in a written statement.
Lamont has said Connecticut needs a “debt diet,” arguing that curtailing borrowing by nearly 40%, to less than $1 billion annually, will ultimately boost economic growth. But Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven noted the legislation authorizes $1.55 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $1.52 billion in fiscal year 2021 for projects such as school construction, local aid and infrastructure improvements. The state averaged nearly $1.6 billion in annual bond authorizations when former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was in office. Max Reiss, Lamont's spokesman, noted that authorizations in this proposal, depending on the type, are down 11% to 19% compared to Malloy's tenure. The borrowing bill, which includes funding for numerous municipal projects, was supposed to have been passed during the last legislative session. However, it got tied up in the debate over highway tolls.

Connecticut Port Authority planned a dual-use State Pier, until it didn’t
David Collins
Logistec, a Canadian-based shipping terminal operator that works in 34 North American ports, managed and grew the cargo business at New London's State Pier for 20 years, with a peak of 400,000 metric tons of cargo and 33 ship calls in 2018.
But by the end of 2018, Logistec was sent packing, rejected in a competitive bid process by the Connecticut Port Authority, which chose instead the operator of New London's closest competitor, the privately owned Gateway Terminal of New Haven.
Predictably, I suppose, in the same way you would expect McDonald's to close a Burger King next door, if it could, Gateway has closed New London's State Pier to cargo, probably for the first time in more than a century. It has moved a lot of the business to its own terminal, where it doesn't pay the state a cut. Other cargoes have moved to Providence.
The stated reason for the closure and the firing of New London union longshoremen, some on the job for decades, is to make way for construction of a new wind turbine assembly facility, an enormous project for which not one state or federal permit has been issued.
This was certainly not the plan announced back in 2018, when the port authority said it was going to choose a manager for State Pier who would both grow traditional cargo and also make way for the needs of the emerging wind industry.
Indeed, the official request for proposals, or RFP, issued by the port authority called for bidders to propose a way to use State Pier for both traditional cargo and wind turbine assembly. A specific objective was to better use the pier to get freight off congested highways.
But somehow, in what seems to me to be a deeply flawed and inherently unfair process, the port authority chose not an operator proposing to manage a dual-purpose port, as the RFP demanded, but one that has instead closed the cargo business down, to its own competitive advantage.
I reached out to Logistec, the publicly traded company that I'll call the principal victim of this dishonest bid process, but Frank Vannelli, senior vice president of commercial development, said the company is still bound by nondisclosure agreements it signed in making a bid.
He did respond in writing to some questions, limited, he said, by the agreements, and suggested the company did not want to engage in sour grapes.
He noted in the written answers that the company responded to the RFP as written and proposed a dual-use port that would have used a floating flexiport to accommodate the wind components.
"We were ready to displace all other cargoes to adjacent property nearby or contiguous to State Pier property and keep the rest for the wind cargo when ready for development," he said.
So what happened between the spring of 2018, when then port authority Chairman Scott Bates, the deputy secretary of the state, said they were preparing for a dual-purpose port "that could pivot one way or the other" between cargo and wind, to when the announcement of the deal with Gateway was made in early 2019?
"This deal positions New London as a wind power hub," Bates said in 2019, traditional cargo evidently left by the wayside.
Logistec executives, who played by the rules and submitted plans as requested in the solicitation for bids, must have seen the writing on the wall when they turned up for the official RFP interview, and neither Bates nor the authority's executive director were there to participate.
Vannelli confirmed, when I asked about the interview, that the agency's chairman and full-time director both skipped it.
What an insult to a company that had been a strategic partner with the state in the operation of the port for the last 20 years and which participated in the bid process when it was announced.
I asked in an email to port authority officials whether there were any negotiations with Gateway before the final decision was made. Such talks would have violated the RFP rules and disqualified the respondent making a bid. I wonder, in the absence of such talks, how the Gateway bid could have been the ultimate winner with a predominately wind plan, given the specific requirements for a dual-use port envisioned in the RFP rules.
Current port authority Chairman David Kooris, who was not on the board at the time, said he is not aware of any negotiations with the bidders during the RFP process. Bates did not respond.
The final concession agreement with Gateway specifically envisions a time when "all or a portion of the port facilities and site" might be used for wind energy work.
How did a plan and request for bids, explained by Bates as having the aim to "pivot" between wind and cargo, end up producing a predominant wind plan in the final concession agreement?
And how is it that the port authority, in the middle of the RFP process, commissioned an international engineering firm to estimate the costs of remaking State Pier as a wind assembly terminal, in the same way that Gateway and the authority ultimately agreed to do it? The estimate, for $349 million, is dated July 2, a time when the port authority was not supposed to have any talks with the bidders except within the interview framework of the RFP.
I got the distinct impression that Logistec has moved on and doesn't plan any legal contest to the dishonest bidding process. A lawsuit would reveal more of how New London didn't end up with a port that can pivot.
More of the puzzle of the story may still be revealed in time, though.
Port authority critic Kevin Blacker has been working to interest federal regulators in anti-trust aspects of the deal.
And there are other victims of the port authority's elimination of competition for New Haven's politically connected port operator.
DRVN Enterprises, the road salt company that Logistec brought to State Pier, has been issued an eviction notice and may no longer be able to compete with the salt business Gateway runs in New Haven.
The competition DRVN brought to Connecticut substantially lowered the cost of road salt for municipalities in the region, a savings that likely will be lost once that competition is wrung from the market.
You don't have to be a lawyer to see an anti-trust complaint there, a rigging of the market engineered by a quasi-public authority. Welcome to Connecticut.
The written answers from Logistec, in which the company thanked the longshoremen's union for its 20-year partnership that it said helped grow the business in New London, were generally sanguine about the outcome of the RFP.
But the company did observe that they were excluded from the process.
"They were already in negotiations during the RFP process with Gateway Terminals," Vannelli wrote. "We were never given an opportunity to quote exclusively on wind by the (port authority,) so the RFP, from Logistec's perspective, was definitely flawed."
Someday we may even know why. This is the opinion of David Collins.

Glastonbury firm lands Killingly power plant contract
Matt Pilon
lastonbury-based Gemma Power Systems will quarterback engineering, procurement and construction work on a major power plant to be built in Killingly starting later this year.
Gemma, a subsidiary of Maryland’s Argan Inc., said Thursday that it won the contract from the plant’s developer, NTE Energy LLC. The value was not disclosed.
Approved by the Connecticut Siting Council last summer, the $700 million Killingly Energy Center will be a 650-megawatt dual-fuel (natural gas and diesel oil) combined cycle plant.
Gemma’s previous contracts from NTE have included new plants in Ohio and North Carolina.
“This will be the fourth project for the team of NTE, MHPS and Gemma and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to design and build another state-of-the-art energy project and to have it located in our home state of Connecticut,”G emma co-president Charles Collins, IV, said in a statement. “This project provides Gemma with another opportunity to use Connecticut labor which has successfully supported Gemma on past projects.”
In all, Gemma has worked on approximately 40 domestic power plant projects totaling 15 gigawatts.
The Killingly project would be the first major natural gas plant built in Connecticut since CPV Towantic was completed in 2018.
Environmental groups and clean-energy advocates have decried the Killingly plant, arguing that building more emissions-producing energy generation doesn’t mesh with Connecticut’s decarbonization goals over the coming decades.

Finish line for New Haven Harbor deepening project within sight
Mary E. O’Leary
NEW HAVEN — Under study since 2007, the deepening of New Haven Harbor is expected to get final approval by the U.S. Army Corps next month now that the state has agreed to bond its $25 million share of the major project’s cost.
The plan consists of deepening the main federal ship channel, maneuvering area, and turning basin to 40 feet from 35 feet and widening that channel and basin to allow larger deep-draft vessels to access the city’s port and the privately held terminals.
Ship pilots and terminal owners have testified that the current depths “do not meet the draft requirements of today’s fleet of bulk and tanker ships,” necessitating vessels to be light loaded before entering the harbor at increased costs and inefficiencies, according to the U.S. Army Corps final report signed by Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of engineers.
Locally, the harbor is overseen by the New Haven Port Authority, which was founded in 2003, with the harbor dredging project guided by recently retired authority Executive Director Judi Sheiffele, who is now a board member of the Connecticut Port Authority.
The cost is $72.311 million, with 75 percent of that picked up by the federal government.
Sheiffele said the plan has been consistently supported by the authority and the terminal operators over the course of the long environmental and feasibility studies because of what it will mean economically and in terms of safety for the shippers.
Once it is officially signed off by the Corps at the end of April, it goes to the Congress to be part of a 2020 bill. That is followed by a design phase with construction likely to start in October 2023. It will then take two more years to complete.
This is the city’s second go-around to get the necessary dredging done. A feasibility report was authorized in 1981 and approved in 1986. It was never built when the non-federal sponsor could not cover its share of the cost. That authorization expired in 2002.
The project calls for 4.28 million cubic yards of silt, mostly glacially deposited, to be removed from the channel and deposited in several open-water sites within the harbor and Long Island Sound. These include the Morris Cove borrow pit, the West River borrow pit and the Central Long Island Sound Disposal site.
Some of the ancillary benefits include creation of an oyster habitat site near the east breakwater, a rock reef habitat north of the west breakwater and a 58-acre salt marsh at Sandy Point in West Haven.
The material was not suitable for beach creation because it is too silty and would wash away, Sheiffele said.
The corps found that the New Haven port “is a crucial import location for refined petroleum products, which supplies demand within Connecticut and the broader Northeast region.” The majority of the landside acreage in the harbor also continues to be devoted to energy-related uses.
“This represents a long-term land use and economic asset for the economy of the state of Connecticut,” the corps wrote.
Petroleum product imports make up approximately 80 percent of the channel tonnage. Salt, sand, and cement imports are the dominant bulk cargoes and virtually all volumes are for immediate local use. Scrap metal is Connecticut’s largest single cargo by weight.
State Rep. Al Paolillo said the dredging and other improvements will “ensure the viability and competitiveness” of New Haven Harbor. “This will result in good paying jobs for residents throughout the Greater New Haven area,” he said.
State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said the money is part of a $90 million outlay over two fiscal years that will support capital improvements to the state’s deep-water ports. “These funds will go a long way toward ensuring our ports are best positioned to foster a diverse economy and robust economic development,” Looney said.
There are power and fiber optic cables located within much of the length of the harbor’s main shipping channel, which carry a capacity of 330 megawatts of high voltage direct current and internet and phone data transfer from New Haven to Shoreham, N.Y.
The Army Corps issued a permit to Cross Sound Cable for construction of the 25-mile power lines in 2002, approximately four miles of which is located within the federal channel. The corps required the cable be buried to a depth of at least 48 feet within the channel. After encountering ledge however, about 700 feet was not buried to the correct depth.
The company is required to do so now at a cost of $32 million as New Haven’s shipping channel is upgraded. The corps is attempting to resolve the issue informally, but will proceed with enforcement, if necessary, according to the report.
While the $32 million is not part of the $72.311 million, Sheiffele said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., is leading the way among the congressional delegation as it seeks a waiver to remove the $32 million from the total cost as it will negatively impact the cost-benefit ratio. This waiver is also supported by the corps.
The final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement, undertaken as part of Corps regulations can be read online. The formal name of the study is the New Haven Harbor Navigation Improvement Project Study.
There were several hearings on the findings in recent years. Those who want to comment further can write to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, 696 Virginia Road, Concord, Mass. 01742, by March 30.
Friction has been building for years inside the the state Department of Transportation between top administrators and unionized DOT engineers over the DOT’s increasing use of outside consultants, instead of in-house state-employed engineers, for highway and bridge construction projects.
Now it has burst into public confrontation, ignited by two sparks. One is a legislative proposal backed by the union for DOT engineers whose ranks have shrunk with state budget cuts. It’s House Bill 5261, the official purpose of which is to "require engineers employed by the Department of Transportation on a full-time basis to inspect highway and bridge construction projects.” The other igniting element is the distribution by the union (CSEA/SEIU Local 2001) of a flyer supporting H. B. 5261 that features side-by-side pictures: One shows the soon-to-be-renovated Arrigoni Bridge, between Middletown and Portland. The other shows the horrific scene of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed in 2018 at Florida International University in Miami, killing six.
What the two projects have in common, the flyer says, is the Florida-based FIGG Engineering Group.
FIGG Bridge Engineers designed the ill-fated Florida bridge, and has been saddled with major blame in the tragedy by the National Transportation Safety Board. And FIGG Bridge Inspection has been hired by the state DOT to provide “construction engineering and inspection (CEI) services” for a two-year, $46-million renovation of the landmark Arrigoni suspension span over the Connecticut River. “In Florida, they couldn’t handle the design of this,” the flyer says above the shot of the collapsed bridge. “So Connecticut put them in charge of this,” goes the printing above the Arrigoni Bridge picture. The flyer dramatized the union’s point.
“To generally advocate for more agency staffing is something we would expect and anticipate [from the union], but this flyer image portrays a false, fearmongering and utterly misleading representation to the public. It needs to be called for what it is — shameful, irresponsible, and just plain wrong,” DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said Thursday.  According to Nursick, FIGG’s role on the local job is different than on the Florida project. Instead of doing design work, FIGG will provide CEI services including overall quality assurance such as verifying that the construction methods and materials conform with DOT specifications. FIGG’s CEI team for the Arrigoni Bridge renovations has performed well for years on various large bridge projects for the DOT, including the Q-bridge, the Route 2/I-84 Interchange and the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, Nursick said. “At the core of the department’s mission is an unwavering pursuit and focus — the safety of the public that we serve,” Nursick said. “This is at the heart of everything we do and is a principle we do not compromise, nor do we take lightly.” The union had raised the issue of FIGG’s role in the Florida collapse last year, when the DOT announced long in advance that FIGG had been selected for the Arrigoni job. But it wasn’t as forceful as it’s being this year, with the bill having been introduced in the legislature and the project now starting. No apologies are forthcoming from Travis Woodward — a DOT engineer who’s president of the local union of 2,500 state engineering, technical and scientific employees — for the aggressive approach. “As front-line employees we will always speak up for the safety of our members and the public," Woodward said. "Texas had a similar choice on their hands regarding FIGG and made the correct one,” in light of the NTSB’s findings about the Florida bridge collapse, by removing the company in January as “engineer of record” for the $800 million US 181 Harbor Bridge replacement project in Corpus Christi, Woodward said. However, a FIGG spokesperson said Thursday that the company is still heavily engaged in that Texas DOT project. Last October, the National Transportation Safety Board stated that “load and capacity calculation errors made by FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc., are the probable cause of the fatal, March 15, 2018, Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami.” "Contributing to the collapse was Louis Berger’s [another engineering company] inadequate peer review, which failed to detect FIGG’s calculation errors in its design of the main span truss member ... and connection to the bridge deck,” the NTSB said. It added that acts or omissions by others, including the university and the Florida transportation department, also “contributed to the severity of the collapse outcome.” FIGG defended itself a statement this week to The Courant saying, “The Miami Pedestrian Bridge construction accident occurred during a field operation. FIGG Bridge Engineers performed the design from their Tallahassee office and did not have a presence at the construction site." The statement said that “detailed research and analysis ... by preeminent forensic structural engineering experts Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE) determined that the pedestrian bridge construction accident resulted from a failure by contractors to comply with the final bridge design plans and State of Florida Standard Construction Specifications at the north end of the bridge. If the appropriate sections of the bridge had been properly fabricated, according to WJE, ‘the collapse would not have occurred.’”
 WJE was hired by FIGG to do the analysis, and WJE’s findings were considered by the NTSB before it issued its findings last October.  Woodward said the most important thing to note in the NTSB’s findings is that “a consulting company (Louis Berger) [was] overseeing another consultant (FIGG). As with all major incidents, everyone points the finger and no one accepts the blame. When public safety is involved, company profits [of consulting firms] should never be a consideration.” He testified Feb. 28 in support of H.B. 5261 at a public hearing held by the legislature’s transportation committee, saying front-line DOT workers “are dedicated professionals that put safety first and state employees consistently perform inspection work better, faster, and for less than outside consultants. By requiring that state employees perform the inspection work on transportation construction projects, we will not only be protecting lives, we will also be protecting Connecticut’s financial resources.”  He said “recent data provided by DOT indicate contracting out of Department services wastes between 56 and 63% in taxpayer dollars. Massive cost savings can be achieved if the work currently privatized by DOT is brought in-house. DOT’s latest reports indicate savings in the range of $100 million annually. In November of 2017, Tennessee reported they had saved over $54 million since 2012 by reducing their reliance on outside contractors and prioritizing hiring of State engineers. This is a success story we can easily replicate in Connecticut.” However, DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti submitted written testimony calling the bill “unnecessary” and saying that even though the department farms out inspection work to consultants, it’s still DOT staff engineers who give the final word that a construction project has been completed properly. Nursick has said in the past that DOT staff engineers “are ultimately responsible for overseeing the job and any consultants involved, as well as for final sign-off on the job,” adding that "consultants at all times are answerable to DOT staff.” “It goes without saying that there is a balance to be struck between maintaining in-house staffing levels and utilizing private sector consultants to perform various functions," Nursick has said. "We obviously seek to strike the best balance possible given the limited resources that we have to live within, and we always fully engage our own in-house staff before bringing on consultants.”
So, after everything that’s been said, what are the prospects of H.B. 5261?
Not good, said transportation Committee co-chair Roland Lemar, a Democratic state representative from New Haven. “I just don’t think there’s enough support" to vote the bill out of the committee, he said. Lemar said the DOT engineers have been pursuing the bill in recent years and “we wanted to give them a hearing” to investigate the relevant issues. He said he thinks “there is merit to their concern” about “private contractors reviewing each other’s work,” and he likes the idea of “a state entity that’s solely focused on public safety and welfare.” But “I certainly haven’t reached a decision” on how to resolve the issue, he said, adding that “I haven’t costed it out” to gauge the expense to taxpayers. “I think there is still work to do.”Woodward said he’ll keep trying next year. Meanwhile, the big Arrigoni Bridge renovation job officially began Feb. 27. So far it has involved work not visible to the public, but actual construction is expected to start in April, Nursick said. Traffic will be restricted for long periods to one lane in each direction, instead of the current two lanes each way. The renovations will be done on the long approach spans at the east and west that carry vehicles up to the 81-year-old bridge’s main suspension span in the middle, with its recognizable curved superstructure and vertical cables that rise above the road deck. The suspension bridge section was renovated years ago. Work on the approach spans will include replacing the road decks and upgrading and repairing the steel supports. Also, in a improvement that won’t improve the Arrigoni’s appearance, a new “protective fence system,” ranging from 8 to 12 high, will be installed across the whole bridge in reaction to jumping incidents. On the Middletown side, the St. John’s Square and Main Street intersection just off the bridge approach will be realigned “to improve safety and operational efficiency,” the DOT says. The DOT has awarded the $46-million construction job to Southington-based Mohawk Northeast, Inc. with a scheduled completion date of Feb. 25, 2022.

Hartford HealthCare to move 700 employees to downtown Hartford; 100 Pearl facelift on tap
Matt Pilon
Hartford HealthCare says it will relocate 400 employees and hire 300 more for its newly leased space in downtown Hartford’s 100 Pearl St. office tower, which is slated for renovations both inside and out.
The multimillion-dollar investment, detailed to Hartford Business Journal in an interview with Hartford HealthCare CEO Jeffrey Flaks, came together in just five months and creates major downtown visibility for the region’s largest health system, he said.
More importantly, the move aims to make Hartford HealthCare, parent to Hartford Hospital, a much bigger player in the center city as it tries to position itself as not just a care provider, but as a leading healthcare innovator and developer of new health technologies.
The new space will include a first-floor innovation center for use by Hartford HealthCare staff as well as new medical-technology startups.
Hartford HealthCare will be investing about $14 million in the project, but millions more will be spent on the property upgrade, which landlord Shelbourne Global will pay for.
HHC’s logo will be visible high atop the 18-story tower, and significant renovations, including installing clear glass on the first few floors of the building and expanding the footprint with a two-story glass cube at the corner of Pearl and Trumbull streets -- inspired by Apple’s Fifth Avenue office  in New York City -- will allow people walking or driving by to clearly see HHC’s media team in action in a new, upgraded TV studio, as well as innovation teams working with startups to develop new products and technologies.
“We have a vision to put people and feet on the street in Hartford,” Flaks said. “Health care is an economic driver and this particular project we’re putting forth is a really outstanding example of how we can use Hartford HealthCare to ultimately drive significant economic value for many sectors within our region.”
Renovations are expected to be complete and all 700 staff in place within 18 months, he said.
HBJ was first to report the lease in January.
There will be urgent-care telehealth booths for patients to interact virtually with HHC providers, lobby improvements and new equipment and renovations on multiple floors.
Flaks says there could be opportunities to lease more space in the future.
Officials had initially scheduled a major public announcement on Pearl Street this week, but the ongoing coronavirus outbreak forced HHC to cancel those plans. Numerous other gatherings and events in the area, from charity fundraisers to conventions, have been postponed or canceled over the past week.
Feet on the street
Starting in June, Hartford HealthCare plans to move non-clinical employees from the health system’s flagship Hartford Hospital, its Newington campus and eight other Connecticut locations to 100 Pearl.
Functions moving downtown include HHC’s chief investment officer, supply chain department, legal team, media and marketing staff, and others.
The 300 new hires are all slated to work in a planned “patient access center,” which is a central hub for scheduling patient appointments and procedures and ensuring HHC’s growing network of hospitals and outpatient facilities are utilized as efficiently as possible.
It’s a sort of patient-facing version of HHC’s care logistics center, a facility it opened in 2017 to better coordinate hospital-to-hospital patient transfers by ambulance and air.
HHC said the logistics center, currently housed in Newington, will also move to 100 Pearl.
While the logistics center handled nearly 9,000 cases per year, the patient access center is eventually expected to handle several million, Flaks said.
The first-floor innovation center is reflective of Hartford HealthCare's desire to dive more deeply into healthcare technology development. The health system helped launch a new healthcare startup accelerator and recently inked an agreement with the Israel Innovation Authority to bring Israeli technologies and companies  to Connecticut to develop and commercialize new products.
As HHC is Connecticut’s second largest employer, Flaks said it has a duty to its home city and region, and he is eager to talk about the economic impacts of the planned project.
First, there’s a marketing value to HHC in making its brand and presence more visible and prominent downtown.
Then there are real estate considerations.
“There are economies of scale here because we are centralizing services and there will be more efficiencies as we provide them in a more coordinated fashion,” Flaks said.
The functions that are moving downtown will also free up some space for higher-value clinical uses, he said.
Shelbourne Global Solutions acquired 100 Pearl in 2015 for $37 million. The building has been underleased of late, after its former marquee tenant Virtus opted for a move across the street to the Gold Building. The HHC deal stabilizes the building and provides for further improvements to the Class A space.
“We are thrilled to partner with Hartford HealthCare and whole-heartedly welcome them to 100 Pearl and to Shelbourne’s growing list of top-tier tenants,” Shelbourne Chief Operating Officer Michael Seidenfeld said in a statement. “HHC, a leader in providing quality healthcare throughout the state, shares our vision for Hartford’s future and will provide a vital amenity to city workers and residents. The decision by HHC to expand their headquarters to downtown Hartford is concrete and tangible evidence of the resurgence currently taking place in the commercial core of the city.”

Assembly leaders to meet on reboot plan for session
HARTFORD – General Assembly leaders are regrouping to figure out how to resume legislative business when the legislature reopens following a temporary coronavirus-related shutdown.
Democratic and Republican leaders are scheduled to confer together on March 23 on plans for proceeding after the two-week hiatus ordered Thursday because of the ongoing public health emergency ends on March 30.
It is possible that the bipartisan leadership decides at that time to extend the shutdown based on how the coronavirus is spreading in Connecticut
“I have no idea right now if this deadline is going to go past March 30. None of us do,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
“Right now, we are planning on March 30. If circumstances change, and it becomes unsafe to allow people in that building and do that business, then we don’t, but we will reassess on a daily basis,” she continued.
Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican leaders are going continue to consult one another daily through calls, emails and texts, as well as top officials of the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont and sometimes Lamont himself.
“There is a million different things that we have to figure out, but we can’t figure them out. Right now, everything is in an holding pattern,” Klarides said..
There is much unfinished legislative business, and it is it is unclear what will get done and what will have to wait now, including some legislation that otherwise likely would have passed in the 2020 session.
There will be roughly five weeks left in the legislative session if the legislature reopens as scheduled on March 30.
One of the thorny questions is deciding what bills get taken up, and how that legislation will be presented for House and Senate votes if the regular order of business has to be bypassed in a truncated session.
Generally, bills are reported out of the committees, and legislative rules require bills must have a hearing to be eligible for a committee vote.
Revised rules approved Wednesday on the last day the House and Senate met pushed back committee reporting deadlines after legislative leaders initially decided to close the state Capitol complex two days for disinfectant cleaning.
The new deadlines will pass for 17 out of 22 committees during the two-week shutdown that was ordered the following day..
The most likely option now will be to put legislation directly before the House and Senate through a procedure known as emergency certification, said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.
One of the unresolved questions is how Democratic and Republican leaders will select legislation that will become emergency certified bills. Under the rules, the House speaker and Senate president jointly make that call.
At this time, legislative leaders plan to do this on a bipartisan basis. Klarides said she has no reason to believe now that will not be the case.
If bills are fast-tracked, a related issue is how to give the public and interested parties an opportunity to testify on legislation that did not receive a hearing before the legislative session was paused.
Aresimowicz said one possibility is consolidating various bills that have been selected for emergency certification and conducting hearings on these combined measures.
Looney said how such hearings might be conducted is another question that will have to be decided, including whether to limit public comments to written testimony, or permitting in-person testimony.
PUBLIC ACCESS to the state Capitol and the Legislative Office Building is another fraught question to be decided.
Lamont issued an executive order that limited public gatherings to no more than 250 people, but his order does not apply to the legislative branch.
Aresimowicz said he remains averse to closing the Capitol complex to the general public.
“I’m very cautious, and I would only do that under extremely extraordinary conditions,” he said. “It is not something I would feel comfortable doing in the normal course of business.”
There is an easy option for buying more legislating time. The legislature is required constitutionally to adjourn on May 6, but a special session could be convened at 12:01 a.m. on May 7 for as long as deemed necessary.
“Obviously, we always have the right to do that,” Aresimowicz said.
The state budget is always the top agenda item. There is no rush to approve a budget bill because Lamont signed a two-year, $43.4 billion budget last year. The adopted $22 billion budget will be in place when the new fiscal year starts July 1.The legislature could meet before June 30 to make adjustments to the approved budget. This would not be unusual.