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The Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) is a part-time legislature that meets for approximately three (3) months in even-numbered years (typically referred to as a “short session”) and five (5) months in odd-numbered years (typically referred to as a “long session”).
In even-numbered years, session begins on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in February and concludes not later than the first Wednesday after the first Monday in May. In odd-numbered years, session begins on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January and concludes not later than the first Wednesday after the first Monday in June.
The House of Representatives has 151 members and the Senate has 36 members. Members of both chambers are elected in November of even-numbered years and serve two year terms.
The CGA utilizes Joint Committees, meaning that members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate serve jointly on the committee.
Every two years in the odd-numbered year the CGA publishes a useful document - This is Your General Assembly. This document will include updated information on Legislative Leaders as well as Committee Chairs. Further information about the CGA can be found at www.cga.ct.gov.
Connecticut typically adopts a two-year, biennial budget in the odd-numbered years. For instance, during the 2011 Legislative Session that begins in January 2011, the General Assembly will likely adopt a budget that will include fiscal year 2012 (beginning July 1, 2011 and ending June 30, 2012) and fiscal year 2013 (beginning July 1, 2012 and ending June 30, 2013).
The process typically begins in February when the Governor releases his or her budget recommendations. Later in the session, typically in April or May, the Appropriations Committee and the Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee release their recommendations. Although it has been difficult in recent years due to the national recession, the full General Assembly typically adopts the final biennial budget by the end of session in June of the odd-numbered years.
During the even-numbered years, the General Assembly will often make adjustments to the second year of the biennial budget. For instance, following along with the example given at the beginning of this section, during the 2012 Legislative Session, the General Assembly will likely make adjustments to the budget for fiscal year 2013 that had been adopted the previous year. However, because there is already a budget in place that had been adopted the previous year, the state is not required to make any adjustments.
The Connecticut Constitution requires that Connecticut adopt a balanced budget each year (unlike the federal government, we are not allowed to intentionally pass a budget that includes deficit spending). Our Constitution also gives the Governor authority to rescind portions of money expended from the General Fund (most state-funded nonprofits in Connecticut are funded through various General Fund allocations to state agencies such as the Department of Social Services) when the state budget falls into a deficit of 1% or more of the total state budget. The Constitution currently allows the Governor to rescind 5% of any given line-item in the General Fund up to a total of 3% of the total General Fund. Such rescissions were made extensively in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The Governor is allowed to recommend additional cuts when the budget is in a deficit, but those cuts must be approved by the Legislature.
All matters that come before the General Assembly for a vote must have a public hearing. Most public hearings are held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, although some are held off-site throughout the state.
The first step in the process is knowing when the public hearings are being held. This information can be found in the CGA Bulletin, which is published daily on the CGA homepage. Public hearings are typically noticed five calendar days in advance, but this does not always happen. The public hearing notice will include the bills being heard, location and time of the hearing, details on how sign-ups will be conducted and the number of copies of your testimony you will need to bring.
Once you know when the hearing is, you will need to sign-up. Sign-ups are typically done the same day as the hearing; although there are times when sign-ups may be done the day before (this information will be included in the hearing notice in the Bulletin). Over the years, many committees have adopted the “lottery” method of conducting sign-ups, meaning that you pick a number from a box to determine where your name will be placed on the list. This requires less waiting as you do not need to arrive several hours in advance to try to get a good place in line. However, you should note that if all of the lottery numbers are pulled prior to your arrival, you will likely be placed at the bottom of the list. Additionally, there are still committees that do a traditional “first-come, first served” sign-up. You will need to decide based on the content of the day’s hearing (e.g.: highly controversial bills vs. non-controversial bills) how early you will need to arrive to get in line.
It is important to bring written testimony with you to the hearing. Committees allow three (3) minutes for each member of the public to testify. We highly recommend keeping your oral testimony as short as possible while providing very detailed information in your written testimony. Include background information, reports and substantial data in your written testimony that legislators will be able to reference at a later time. Summarize your written testimony when you speak and let the committee know that they have your written remarks and additional background information. Finally, always include your contact information on your testimony.
Waiting is a big part of the public hearing process. Committees often allow Executive Branch personnel (e.g.: Constitutional Officers and state agency Commissioners) to testify during the first hour of the hearing. Also, several committees allow individuals with disabilities to testify at the beginning of the public portion regardless of the lottery process (this can be a big benefit to nonprofit consumers so be sure to check with the committee clerk on this). In the end, public hearings often take several hours so you’ll want to be prepared for that.
The good news is that CT Nonprofits’ staff is always here to help members with sign-ups and to provide assistance with writing testimony, so please let us know you need help!
Finally, if you can’t make it to a public hearing, it is still a good idea to submit written testimony. Written testimony can be submitted to the committee clerk (check the committee pages for the clerk’s contact information). Your written testimony will be posted to the committee webpage and distributed to legislators, although we recommend that you also email a copy of your testimony directly to committee members with a note that you are unable to attend the public hearing.