Tolls. Sports betting. Marijuana. All were topics of discussion at the state Capitol last week as Senate Democrats held a series of press conferences to lay out their agenda for the legislative session. And each day a Republican lawmaker was there to rebut them, saying proposals like free community college are great, if you can afford them, and that other proposals like a $15 minimum wage will make Connecticut a harder place to do business. The committee process is chugging along, with more public hearings on tap for next week. And we got to see Ned Lamont’s high school yearbook photo. Spoiler alert: There was nothing scandalous in it, but the teenage future governor had quite a head of hair.
Transportation authority or a front for tolls?: That was the argument between Democrats and Republicans at the state Capitol this week. Senate Democrats have introduced legislation calling for the creation of the Connecticut Transportation Authority. Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney said lawmakers might be required to make a decision on enacting tolls, but the authority could have the power to determine where electronic toll gantries would be located and what the rates would be, as well as helping the state prioritize transportation projects. Republicans accused Looney and other Democrats of shirking their legislative responsibilities and trying to pave the way for tolls without having to take a tough vote on the issue. "If this is an attempt for Democrats to backdoor decisions and they could claim they’re not responsible for it, then that’s just plain wrong," said Senate Republican leader Len Fasano.
Sports betting: Who's in, who's out?: There's a lot of competition in Connecticut for the lucrative new market of sports betting, which became legal nationwide after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer. Lawmakers in the General Assembly have tread carefully, waiting on Gov. Ned Lamont to negotiate a deal with Connecticut's two federally recognized tribes, who want a stake in the new form of gambling. But the Connecticut Lottery Corp., MGM, the state's off-track betting operators and the developers of online gambling apps all want a piece of the action. That's led to an expensive lobbying fight at the state Capitol
Connecticut Dems aren't impressed by Trump's SOTU: A more mild-mannered President Donald Trump may have been on display Tuesday night for the State of the Union address by Connecticut's all-Democratic congressional delegation wasn't impressed. The president's oft-repeated plea for funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border trumped any goodwill from conciliatory passages on modernizing infrastructure and protecting health care coverage for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. "This speech was a tale of two countries," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. "President Trump’s calls for unity seem deeply hollow and empty when he appeals to policies that critically divide us. He wants to build more walls — not bridges."
Five things you may have missed
Free community college?: At a forum Monday at Central Connecticut State University, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz suggested Connecticut should do away with tuition at its dozen community colleges. "It wouldn't cost that much to do it," she said. "That much" is subjective. A Democratic proposal in 2018 to allow eligible students to attend community college for free and to finish out their last two years at a state university had a pricetag of $30 million a year. No word on whether Gov. Ned Lamont is considering the proposal as part of his two-year state budget, which will be released later this month. During the campaign he spoke of a much more limited program to make college free for veterans. Connecticut veterans already don't pay tuition at UConn and the state's regional universities and community colleges, but the plan Lamont discussed would waive additional fees at a cost of almost $5 million a year.
Billboard wars: An app that tells users where the nearest place to buy marijuana is and a residential program that specializes in treating addiction have put up dueling billboards along I-91 in New Haven. The weedmaps billboard carries the message “Weed is legal in 60 miles,” a reference to recreational marijuana sales in Massachusetts. Further north on the highway, Turnbridge has taken out a billboard that reads “Addiction treatment is closer.” “As a treatment center that treats young adults and teenagers, we have a significant number of kids whose lives have been derailed by marijuana, without other substances,” Diana Clark, family outreach specialist for Turnbridge, told Hearst Connecticut Media.
Stefanowski lunches with Rowland: John G. Rowland, Connecticut's felonious ex-governor, and Bob Stefanowski, the Republican who ran and lost to Ned Lamont in last year's governor's race, walk into an Italian restaurant. There's no punchline. It happened Monday, raising more than a few eyebrows. Stefanowski, who, like Rowland, campaigned on eliminating the state income tax, declined to comment on the meeting. Rowland, who was released last May from his most recent stint in prison, has boosted his visibility recently, from talking about his new job with a prison fellowship ministry to his scheduled appearance at a faith breakfast this Friday in Darien.
Is time up for Tim Stewart?: Tim Stewart, the former GOP mayor of New Britain who is now president of the city’s chamber of commerce, is facing calls to resign from his position or be ousted over a misogynistic Facebook comment he made during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. “Bitches in heat" is what he wrote under a photograph of Democratic congresswoman who had worn white to honor the suffragettes who fought to get women the right to vote. Stewart’s daughter, Erin Stewart, the current Republican mayor of New Britain, said she was embarrassed and mortified. The elder Stewart apologized in a subsequent Facebook post: My comment was wrong and in a poor taste in response to a particular time during the speech that I took offense to. This in no way excuses my behavior and I am deeply sorry to not only the women in my life but to all women for the remark."
Date night: If you're a Republican legislator in Connecticut with Valentine's Day plans you might want to run this by your significant other. Gov. Ned Lamont has invited GOP lawmakers to a meet-and-greet scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, according to Courant columnist Kevin Rennie's Daily Ructions blog. If you were thinking of bringing your sweetheart to the gathering at the governor's mansion, think again. "Unfortunately, no additional guests are allowed," former state Rep. Chris Soto, who took a job as Lamont's legislative affairs director, wrote in the invitation to the Republican legislators.
Odds and ends
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Lowell Weicker, the former Connecticut governor and U.S. senator, argues special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election must be released publicly. “If the president is as innocent as he has argued from day one, then he should want Mueller’s report to be public and transparent, rather than rebutted and censored as Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, has already suggested he will do,” Weicker wrote. ... Freshmen U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes won her congressional race by 12 points in November but she’s been named to a list of 44 vulnerable Democrats in the House by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The 5th District, which includes central and northwestern Connecticut, has been held by Democrats for a dozen years but Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump there by just 4 points in 2016. ... The curious saga involving Jon Landry, the former Farmingtown town councilor, appears to be coming to an end. Landry pleaded no-contest Thursday to second-degree harassment in the case surrounding his yearslong extramarital relationship with a young Newington woman starting when she was a teenager. He’ll avoid prison. Landry recently has changed his identity on social media accounts, using the new name Jon Paczyński. ... As legislators consider a variety of bills meant to crack down on the epidemic of teen e-cigarette use, new data from the state Department of Education show the number of students being disciplined for vaping experienced a sixfold increase between the 2015-16 and 2017-18 school years.
“If you’re not jealous of the hair, you’re not being honest.”
Gov. Ned Lamont, commenting on his high school yearbook photo, which he posted to social media Thursday.