CSEA SEIU Local 2001
What's Happening in the General Assembly?
Updated On: Jun 17, 2021

CSEA SEIU Local 2001 Political Education Director, Daniel I. Medress Delivers an End of Session Wrap Up on June 11, 2021

Since March of last year, we have found ourselves in unprecedented times.  A deadly global pandemic has caused disruption on a scale we have not seen in any of our lifetimes.  And, we all bore witness to the insurrection in Washington, D.C. on January 6.  We have lost friends and loved ones, we have watched our democratic republic challenged like never before, and we have tried to continue on in the hopes that some semblance of normalcy returns.  CSEA members, like too many others, have had to put their lives on the line to make sure that the critical work we do gets done.

And, just like we have continued to serve the public, on January 6, members of the Connecticut General Assembly convened their regular legislative session to conduct the people’s business.  As we are every year, CSEA members were deeply involved in this year’s session.  From proposing bills to testifying at public hearings to contacting legislators and so much more, CSEA members adapted to the challenges of this legislative session.  We fought hard for a legislative agenda that put members first while honoring and respecting the important work we do.

2021 General Assembly Session Highlights

  • The Budget: At the top of CSEA’s 2021 Legislative Agenda was passing a fair budget that increases revenue through taxes on Connecticut’s wealthiest residents, rejects privatization schemes, and funds the services we provide and the benefits we have earned.  While the General Assembly was able to pass a biennial budget (House Bill 6689) and a bond package (House Bill 6690), they were not able to pass the so-called “implementer bill” (this is the legislative term for the bill(s) that outline how the money allocated in the budget is spent - the bill implements the budget).  As the CSEA News goes to print, we do not yet have a date for the Special Session the General Assembly will hold to pass an implementer bill.  During this Special Session, the House and Senate will also take up legislation detailing the distribution of the remaining federal funds received through the American Rescue Plan (ARP).  They are also expected to take up legislation to legalize and regulate the recreational use and sale of cannabis; a bill to do this (Senate Bill 1118) passed the Senate, but stalled in the House on the final day of session.

    The $46 billion budget that covers FY2022 and FY2023 falls short in many areas.  As is constitutionally required it is balanced, but, to achieve that, legislators relied on over $2 billion in money from the ARP.  This use of federal money is a one-time thing.  Two years from now, Connecticut will not have this resource to balance the books.  That was part of the reason why CSEA joined with allies in the Recovery for All coalition to advocate for a realignment of our current tax system, which places too much of a burden on working people, and instead ask our state’s millionaires and billionaires to pay a little more in taxes.  Governor Ned Lamont was adamant that this was a policy decision he was unwilling to explore, but the problems of Connecticut’s unfair tax system is not one that is just going to go away.  Going forward, the work CSEA and other Recovery for All coalition partners do to fix this unequal system will be vital to ensuring that Connecticut has an economy that works for everyone and a budget that is not balanced on the backs of public employees.

    The budget does not make progress in addressing short staffing issues that are experienced firsthand by CSEA members.  It does not include increased funding for the educational programs in our state’s prisons provided by CSEA members.  And, it does not include a consultant line item in the Department of Transportation’s section of the budget.  All things CSEA members fought hard to achieve.

    The budget, also, does not fund pandemic pay bonuses for workers who were required to go to worksites during the pandemic.  CSEA members like those working in the Southbury Training School, in our state’s prison facilities, as family child care providers, or board of education workers like bus drivers and paraeducators literally put their lives on the line to do their jobs.  Recognizing the commitment and bravery of these people with a pandemic pay bonus for the time they spent at their worksites is the right and fair thing to do.  Creating a pandemic pay program and passing legislation to fund it with ARP money and put it into effect is at the core of CSEA’s Special Session agenda. 

    As frustrating as these things are, there are a few bright points in this year’s biennial budget: municipalities and boards of education are receiving an increase in state funds, the State Contracting Standards Board will finally be properly funded with enough money to do it’s important oversight work, and billions of dollars are going into the state employee pension and health care funds.  This is not the budget that we would have passed, but it contains no layoffs and no attacks on collective bargaining.      

  • Pass State Employee Contracts.  All state employee collective bargaining agreements and binding arbitration awards must be approved by a vote of the House of Representatives and Senate.  This session, the contract for the newest members of the CSEA family, State School Principals, passed through both chambers of the General Assembly with bipartisan support.    

  • Paraeducator compensation improvement and career development. After many years of hard work, CSEA paraeducators, working with our brothers and sisters in other union locals that represent paras, passed legislation that will start the process of dramatically improving their pay, benefits, training, professional development, career opportunities, and working conditions.  Sections 509 and 510 of House Bill 6621 will direct the School Paraeducator Advisory Council to spend the next several months compiling a series of legislative recommendations for the 2022 legislative session.  This proposal will allow for the development of a statewide, uniform system for paraeducator qualifications, career development, pay rates, and retirement and health care benefits.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Injury coverage for Department of Corrections workers.  For years, members of CSEA’s Correction Supervisors Council have been working to pass legislation that expands PTSI coverage to include them, and other emergency responders.  Although current law covers police officers, DOC-employed parole officers, and    firefighters diagnosed with PTSI, other DOC workers, emergency dispatchers, and EMS workers were excluded.  Senate Bill 660 corrects that problem and passed unanimously through both chambers of the General Assembly.

  • Early voting and no excuse voting by mail.  Allowing voters to vote early or by mail without an excuse is something Connecticut should have done long ago.  CSEA and allies helped pass two constitutional amendments that will give voters the chance to finally create a system of early and no excuse voting.  House Joint Resolution 58, a constitutional amendment to allow no excuse absentee voting, passed through both chambers, but because it did not pass with a supermajority, it needs to be voted on again by legislators during next year’s General Assembly session.  If it passes through the House and Senate, it will be placed on the 2024 General Election ballot.  House Joint Resolution 59, a constitutional amendment to allow early in-person voting, passed through both chambers and will be on the 2022 General Election ballot for voter approval (it was already approved by both chambers during a previous session).

  •  Protecting collective bargaining after the Supreme Court’s bad decision in the Janus case.  Anti-union forces funded the Janus case because they saw it as an opportunity to deliver a body blow to the labor movement.  For them, it was not about public policy or free speech, but a chance to financially hamstring labor unions.  Labor unions are still here, members are still here, and now, thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 908, we have a key tool to ensure that members rights, jobs, and benefits are protected.  The bill (1) requires public employers to provide the union with access to orientations for new public employee hires and up-to- date bargaining unit lists with worksite locations and contact information; (2) clarifies the dues deduction authorization process; (3) maintains the union’s ability to meet with members during the workday to respond to grievances, complaints and other issues; and (4) requires public employers to refrain from deterring or discouraging public employees from becoming or remaining members of a union.

These are just a few highlights from the 2021 Connecticut General Assembly session.  With the State Capitol closed to the public due to the ongoing deadly COVID-19 pandemic, CSEA members rolled up their sleeves, literally and virtually, to pass, amend, and defeat legislation of crucial interest and importance.  Some parts of our agenda - the public health care option (Senate Bill 842) and collective bargaining rights for probate court workers (House Bill 6382), for instance - did not move forward this session.  Other bills we were able to stop - such as the privatization of building inspections (Senate Bill 846) - or fix - Senate Bill 920, for example, started as a bad public-private partnership bill, but CSEA members got it amended to take out dangerous language and to put in strong protections for workers and the general public - can always come back later.

As we close the chapter on this very unique legislative session of the Connecticut General Assembly, we look ahead and remember the words of former 1199 President Carmen Boudier, “The work, it never ends.”

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