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Voices from the Capitol: End of Session Update - New Paths to Opportunity

(For previous Voices from the Capitol newsletters, click here)

May 15, 2018

In today’s email:

End-of-Session Update:

New Paths to Opportunity

The 2018 legislative session came to a close Wednesday, with the usual flurry of late-night votes and budget negotiations. It has been an unusually busy, and in many ways exceptionally successful, short session, with many of our priority bills making it to the Governor's desk, with the promise of opening new paths to opportunity for many Connecticut children and families.

On the fiscal side, unexpectedly high revenues allowed the restoration of funding to many key programs. As a result, legislators renewed and even expanded some much-needed investments in transportation, health insurance coverage, education, juvenile justice, and early childhood.

Legislators also made important reforms to the Bond Lock: our top priority this session. Our end-of-session legislative report will provide detail as to how changes to the duration of the Bond Lock coupled with changes in the volatility cap mechanism have improved state policy, even as we acknowledge the need for ongoing work to assure fiscal responsibility, adequacy, and sustainability.

As we work on our budget analysis and legislative reviews, we extend our heartfelt thanks to the many legislators, advocates, policymakers, and friends with whom we have worked to ensure that all children in Connecticut have the opportunity to succeed. We deeply appreciate your leadership, insights, and hard work, without which none of the legislative victories described below would have been possible. It has been an eventful and at times challenging legislative session, but together we are moving equity and opportunity forward in our state.

 

Legislative Priorities

Key Bills that We Supported:

HUSKY A Parent Eligibility Restoration. The increase in revenues this year allowed the General Assembly to restore HUSKY A health insurance coverage for 13,000 low-income parents (we explained why this matters here and here). The Medicaid Strategy Group and Protect Our Care CT provided admirable support in raising awareness about the impact of the HUSKY cuts, and were key champions on their reversal.

S.B. 323 An Act Requiring Notice Prior To The Transfer Of A Child To A New Placement. A bill that emerged from our Youth at the Capitol event, it instructs the Department of Children and Families to provide at least 10 days notice to children and youth in foster care before they are moved to a new home. It received unanimous support in both chambers. Thank you to Senator Paul Formica and Senator Len Suzio for championing this bill, and thank you to Senator Marilyn Moore, Representative Diana Urban, and Representative Lezlye Zupkus for prioritizing this as a Committee Bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 188 An Act Establishing the State Oversight Council on Children and Families. This bill creates an oversight structure for DCF to continue monitoring its performance after the Juan F. consent decree expires. Approved with widespread support by both chambers, we want to recognize the leadership of Sarah Eagan, the Child Advocate and the partnership of the Alliance for Children's Mental Health, and the Center for Children's Advocacy, as well as Representative Toni Walker, Senator Len Suzio, and Senator Len Fasano. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 455 An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment. The bill passed both chambers with nearly unanimous support, including several amendments that made it stronger. We want to highlight the great work of Commissioner Subira Gordon, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Senator Douglas McCrory, Senator Gayle Slossberg, Senator Toni Boucher, Representative Andrew Fleischmann, and Representative Gail Lavielle in the approval of this bill. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5449 An Act Concerning The Administration Of Certain Early Childhood Programs And The Provision Of Early Childhood Services By The Office Of Early Childhood. This OEC agency bill makes a number of statutory changes to better serve young children, including enabling increased rates for School Readiness and Child Day Care Center and new forms of program evaluation. We strongly supported this bill due to a section that enabled prioritization of infants and toddlers and other high-need populations (such as homeless families) when Care 4 Kids is operating with a waitlist, thereby helping to ensure that the most vulnerable children and families don’t have to wait long for the child care they need. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5041 An Act Concerning The Transfer Of Juvenile Services From The Department Of Children And Families To The Court Support Services Division Of The Judicial Branch. Approved with widespread bipartisan support, this bill creates the structure for the creation of community-based diversion system for juvenile offenders. We worked on this bill as part of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee’s diversion group, in close collaboration with the Tow Youth Justice Institute, the Child Health and Development Institute, the State Department of Education and Juvenile Review Boards. Read our testimony here.

 

 

Celebrating Legislative Partnerships:

S.B. 256 An Act Concerning Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements. This bill requires that certain bills include a racial and ethnic impact statement at the request of any legislator. Connecticut is the first state in the country to adopt this policy. Both chambers passed the bill with widespread bipartisan support (unanimously in the Senate, 104-44 in the House). We want to thank Senator Gary Winfield, Commissioner Subira Gordon and Werner Oyanandel for their leadership on this issue. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 13 An Act Concerning Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Women. Connecticut is one of the first states in the nation to enact this legislation implementing a set of policies to improve the treatment of female inmates in Connecticut’s prisons. Floor amendments improved an already strong bill to include protections for transgender inmates, that passed unanimously in both chambers. The Commission on Equity and Opportunity and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England championed this bill to passage. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5210 An Act Mandating Insurance Coverage Of Essential Health Benefits And Expanding Mandated Health Benefits For Women, Children And Adolescents. This bill protects essential healthcare for women and children and was passed by both chambers with widespread bipartisan support. Many thanks to Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and Representative Sean Scanlon for spearheading this bill and to Protect our Care Connecticut and for their collaboration ensuring its passage. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5517 An Act Concerning Executive Branch Data Management and Processes. This bill codifies the creation of a state Chief Data Officer to coordinate data gathering and sharing across all state agencies. It passed with unanimous support in both chambers. Read our testimony here.

SB 312: An Act Concerning The Needs Of Children With Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities. This bill requires the Commissioner of DCF to develop and integrate procedures and practices that are responsive to the needs of children with disabilities at all points of the child welfare system. The bill passed both chambers unanimously. We want to thank the Office of the Child Advocate for their leadership on this legislation. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5169: An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Office of Early Childhood. This bill creates a 90-day grace period for vaccinations and physicals for homeless children enrolling in child care. Lowering barriers to accessing child care for homeless families helps keep kids safe, enables parents to work to support themselves, and provides stability for the whole family. It passed unanimously in both chambers. We commend the Partnership for Strong Communities, the Office of Early Childhood, and allies throughout the early childhood community for this legislation. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5470 An Act Concerning The Provision Of Timely Notice Of Child Placement Information From The Department Of Children And Families To The Attorney Or Guardian Ad Litem Representing The Child In A Child Protection Matter. The Center for Children’s Advocacy championed this bill, that passed both chambers unanimously. This bill complements S.B. 323 to help ensure that foster children have appropriate support from their attorney or guardian ad litem when they transition between homes. Read our testimony here.

 

Key Bills We Opposed that Were Defeated:

S.B. 270 An Act Concerning Work And Community Service Requirements For Recipients Of Certain Public Assistance Programs. The bill would have added work and community service requirements and asset testing for adults under age 65 receiving HUSKY (Medicaid) insurance. It also would have barred the Department of Social Services from applying federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) waivers for high-unemployment areas. These changes would have added enormous administrative burden for the state while increasing the likelihood that eligible families would lose care due to red tape. The bill did not receive a vote in committee. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5445 An Act Concerning The Development Of Policies Regarding The Provision Of Alternative Educational Opportunities For Expelled Students By Boards Of Education. The bill  removed minimum education requirements for expelled students, potentially leaving them behind on their education. Although it made it out of committee, but was not put up for a vote in the House. We worked closely with the Center for Children's Advocacy and Connecticut Legal Services to push back on this proposal. You can read our testimony here.

S.B. 373: An Act Concerning The Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, Low Option Benefit Design and Short-term Care Policies. This bill and two others would have allowed insurers to offer short-term plans and insurance options with high-out-of-pocket costs and limited benefits. Such plans expose families to debt and can make insurance coverage unaffordable to use. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. Read our testimony here.

S.B.316 An Act Establishing A Child Care Facility Neighbor Relations Task Force. This bill would have created a task force to address neighborhood concerns with local group homes without representation from any youth or staff - thereby risking further stigmatization and harm to children in DCF care. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. The Alliance of Community Nonprofits was a key partner defeating this bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 486 An Act Concerning Notification To Boards Of Education Of The Release Of A Juvenile Sexual Offender And A Model Policy Concerning The Reentry Of Such Juveniles Into The School System. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. The bill is similar to one introduced last year. It lacked key privacy protections for ex-offenders, running counter to research on rehabilitation and recidivism. We worked closely with the Juvenile Justice Alliance and the Office of the Chief Public Defender to educate legislators on the dangers of this bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B.187 An Act Concerning The Transfer Of A Child Charged With Certain Offenses To The Criminal Docket. The Senate referred this bill to the Judiciary Committee that voted it down. It would have expanded the number of juvenile cases that could be transferred to adult criminal courts. We want to thank the Office of the Chief Public Defender, the Juvenile Justice Alliance and Center for Children's Advocacy, the Alliance for Children’s Mental Health, and African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities (AFCAMP) for their support to defeat this bill. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5584:  An Act Establishing a Tax Credit for Employers that Provide Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits and Concerning Family and Medical Leave Accounts.The bill reached the House, but did not get a vote. While we applaud Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) as a policy, this bill would have limited the number of people would could access PFML while costing the state revenue. Read our testimony in opposition here.

S.B. 359: An Act Prohibiting The Disaggregation Of Student Data By Ethnic Subgroups In The Public School Information System.The bill did not receive a vote in Committee. Helping lawmakers understand the value and necessity of disaggregated data for opening pathways to opportunity was a team effort, and we’d like to recognize the partnership of Commissioner Subira Gordon, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Health Equity Solutions, the Connecticut Association of Human Services, the Khmer Health Advocates, and the Asian Pacific American Coalition of Connecticut. Read our testimony here.

The Volatility Cap

The General Assembly revised budget introduced some welcome changes to the volatility cap. Under the old system, any revenue raised from estimates and finals above $3.15 billion went to the Budget Reserve Fund, without any further adjustments. The cap level, however, set a hard limit, without ties to actual volatility or accounting for economic growth or the overall budget situation.

The new provision indexes the actual cap to growth in personal income, allowing the revenue set aside to track economic activity. In addition, the General Assembly can raise the cap level with a three-fifths majority in both chambers to respond to changes in the tax code or economic growth.

Representative Vin Candelora has been a strong voice for a responsible, nuanced and flexible volatility cap in Connecticut, and we thank him for his leadership.

Lawmakers also introduced changes to the Bond Lock, limiting its application to five years. We are evaluating the legislative language included in the implementer to fully understand its implications, but we thank Representative Jason Rojas for raising the bill that made the Bond Lock a discussion amongst the legislature.

Analysis: Budget Proposals

We are working on a full-length analysis of the budget right now; expect to hear from us in the coming days. The overall picture is that increased revenues enabled the General Assembly to restore funding or limit cuts to several key programs. Nevertheless, legislators only made modest progress in tackling Connecticut’s structural deficits, leaving a challenging budget scenario for the 2019 legislative session. The CT Mirror, as usual, has a good overview.

Federal Update: CHIP Rescissions, SNAP Updates

  • The White House is set to request a rescission package this week, asking Congress to rescind funds previously allocated by Congress and signed into law — the first installment in what’s expected to become a larger Trump administration push to clamp down on government spending. The request will likely include cuts to CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program). Vox has more on this proposal.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly Food Stamps—provides low-income households with a monthly benefit that is redeemable only for food. More than 400,000 Connecticut residents relied on this program last year alone. Congress may soon vote on proposed changes to SNAP in the Farm Bill. These changes would increase food insecurity and hardship for children in low-income families, while increasing the state’s administrative burden. Click here to download our issue brief about the potential impact of the cuts in Connecticut.

What We Are Reading


 

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