Virus Crisis Puts State Legislation on Hold

Early in March, committees of the Connecticut House of Representatives and Senate were proceeding with business as usual, jointly voting favorably on a raft of bills to be taken up by the General Assembly. But that did not happen.

COVID-19 intervened and thereafter the Legislature effectively adjourned. Finally, when the General Assembly formally closed its 2020 session last week, it did so without adopting any legislation.

In a phone interview Friday, when state Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, Redding, Weston stepped away from a motor caravan celebrating the dedication of healthcare providers and workers in Fairfield County, she acknowledged that the coronavirus emergency has shut down the work of legislation at least for a time.

“The normal process of government has been suspended,” said Hughes. “It is now an executive process, and we are trying to influence that process.” She spoke of nine-to-ten-hour days working with colleagues and non-partisan commissioners to address the issues causing her constituents so much “distress and suffering.”

Similarly focused on constituent service these days is state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Weston, Westport, who intervened late last month with the Connecticut Department of Labor regarding a delay in its handling of a surge of COVID-19 related unemployment-compensation applications.

In a website statement posted on April 20, Hwang wrote that he was hearing at that time “every day from constituents who have been trying to get in touch with the CT DOL, worried about the status of their claims.”

On Wednesday, Hwang will be hosting a virtual town hall meeting with the deputy commissioner of the DOL to field questions from unemployed and self-employed constituents.

Hughes and Hwang not only share a virus-related legislative hiatus, but also the experience of having legislation they supported approved in committee, only to be derailed by the COVID-19 closure in March.

For Hughes, it was “Senate Bill 346, An Act Concerning Public Options For Healthcare in Connecticut,” more commonly known as the Connecticut Plan, which was written to expand access to affordable healthcare plans already offered by the state for those.

In an open letter on her website, dated March 16, Hughes said that the “people who will suffer the most from this historic virus are not the ones with great insurance, self-quarantining, but the ones our system has already left vulnerable: the uninsured and the under-insured.”

For Hwang, as noted by his press office, it was “Senate Bill 19, An Act Concerning Sexual Misconduct On College Campuses,” which is a bi-partisan measure “to establish a council on sexual misconduct to conduct a sexual-misconduct survey for use by institutions of higher education in the state.” A second objective of SB-19 is “to protect students who report being a victim of or witness to sexual assault, stalking or violence from disciplinary action by an institution of higher education.”

Like every other state legislator, Hughes and Hwang are now waiting to hear whether and when a special session of the Connecticut Assembly will take place next month. The expectation, for Hughes, is that, if convened, the session, which is widely talked about, would likely focus on emergency measures and relief in the current health crisis, as well as pressing budget questions. In that event, broad legislation would still be on hold.

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