After much consternation and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the state Senate that is split between Republicans and Democrats 18-18 finally reached a power sharing deal Thursday that gives the GOP the most power they have had in the past 20 years.
The deal allows lawmakers to move forward when the legislative session opens Jan. 4 and avoids potential chaos in the equally divided chamber. It also averts a civil lawsuit that Republicans had already written questioning whether the lieutenant governor could break the tie to appoint the highest-ranking senator. Republicans expected to file the suit in Superior Court on Thursday, but that move was postponed as the final agreement was reached, said Senate Republican leader Len Fasano.
The agreement allows Republicans to force at least a procedural vote on labor contracts – something they have wanted for years. In prior years, votes are not taken and the contracts go into effect.
Under the deal, Sen. Marty Looney of New Haven will remain as President Pro Tempore, but Fasano will hold the newly created title of Republican President Pro Tempore.
Senators hailed the deal as historic because the Senate has not been tied in nearly 125 years.
Democrats won some portions of the agreement by keeping Looney as the top senator with powers to appoint various officials and retaining the right for the lieutenant governor – Democrat Nancy Wyman – to break ties on contentious issues. But Republicans gained more power than they have had in the past two decades in Hartford.
Looney released a statement that the agreement was "a fair compromise" allowing the Senate to operate when the regular session starts.
Insiders expected some sort of agreement, but not just two days after Looney underwent kidney transplant surgery. Looney crafted the deal with Fasano in a negotiation between two New Haven-area attorneys who have known each other for decades.
Despite being in the hospital, Looney called Fasano on Wednesday night to hash out the details, Fasano said.
"He had a strong voice – very lucid," Fasano said in an interview. "Medically, it's remarkable."
Looney released a statement Thursday, saying, "With bipartisan power comes bipartisan responsibility. Today's announcement would not have been possible without Senator Fasano's leadership and commitment to working together throughout this process."
Another major point in the deal is each legislative committee will have both Democrat and Republican Senate co-chairs, allowing either side to "split" the committee and bottle up a Senate bill. That is important if too many bills are bottled up long enough that time runs out when the regular session ends in early June.
The "split" committee means that the House members and Senate members would vote separately in the joint committee. As such, if Senate members voted to reject a particular bill, it would slow down the process at the Capitol for that legislation.
The committee move does not kill a bill forever, but it makes it much more difficult, time consuming, and easier to block the legislation, officials said.
In addition, the committees will have an equal number of Senators – a change from the recent past when the Democrats dominated the committees and could control which bills received a public hearing. For years, the Democrats have dominated the powerful budget, tax, and judiciary committees – thus shaping legislation that Republicans often voted against but could not stop because they were in the minority.
Another change will be that the most important budget and budget-implementation bills must be released publicly at least 12 hours before any votes in the Senate. That represents a major change for Republicans, who have complained for years that they had only a few hours to digest long, complicated bills before they were forced to vote on matters such as the $20 billion annual state budget.
Lawmakers particularly complained about the complicated budget "implementer" bills that contained policy changes in hundreds of pages of dense legal verbiage that legislators could not read before the vote. One of the those changes involved Fairfield-based General Electric Co., which has since moved its corporate headquarters to Boston after complaining about the level of taxes and the business climate in Connecticut. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they were unaware that the provisions in favor of GE were slipped into the lengthy bill, but the company eventually decided to leave Connecticut, anyway.