In The Loop – May 17, 2024

By all accounts, this was the theme song for the 2024 legislative session. What started to be an ambitious and controversial packet of legislative proposals was whittled down every step of the way. Fewer bills were reported out of committees and loads of proposals were left hanging on the Senate and House calendars when the gavel came down at midnight on May 8th. The 2024 session started with advocates, business organizations, elected officials, educators, and unions all seeking to take issues that didn’t make it during the last session.

These issues span a variety of topics, reflecting both ongoing and emerging challenges:

Healthcare: By focusing on expanding and modernizing public health data systems and addressing prescription drug pricing many felt they could impact the rising cost of healthcare in CT. Small business employee healthcare costs were hot as well as providing tax breaks for small businesses who purchase the two highest levels of coverage through the state health insurance exchange but the hand got called and didn’t go far. Hospitals that wanted to overhaul the CON process were quickly faced with a pair of aces as the issue of rate review like what’s on the books in CT for utility companies was dealt with early on much to the chagrin of many.

Workforce and Education: Addressing workforce shortages and mobility, as well as re-evaluating educational requirements for certain jobs, were high on the agenda. But the cards were there for such negatives and mostly the unions played their cards right and secured a long-awaited universal paid sick days in a phased-in schedule. The teacher shortage was holding a straight of hearts with a streamlined teacher certification as well as a lifting of several mandates for school systems. Public higher ed held their collective breaths all session long and in the final days as the Leadership revealed the allocations of the leftover ARPA federal dollars they knew how to play the game – ‘You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table, there’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done’

Technology and AI: The impact of artificial intelligence (AI) has been on the table since last year when CHATGPT was introduced and its acceptance and use have surprised many. As the legislature grappled with the right level at the right time for regulation, at the end of the day the initiative lacked enough support to pass

Housing: The lack of affordable housing especially for CT’s young professionals, made the legislature look to draw a winning hand through a series of betting strategies – mostly falling short due to the high stakes of the issue. In the end, the advocates for the lack of support for CTs homeless population ended up winning the pot of money they had hoped for last session.

Climate and Emissions: Unfortunately, a variety of House-supported environmental issues were caught when the river card came in the Senate and the game was over when the gavel came down.

Fiscal Policies: Some might suggest that a return to “bad habits of the past” played into the Governor’s ability to call the legislature’s bluff. With leadership checking the clock after being told of a definitive veto, they soon realized that “Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep’ cause every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep”.

So as the session drew to a close on May 8th, legislators might have learned a lesson or two from that song written in 1976 – “if you’re gonna play the game, boy, you gotta learn to play it right.”

Politics, like life, is a game we are all forced to play. By learning the written rules and the rules of the home court, we can know the best way to play. Each part of the process of passing legislation is a practice session, repeated over and over, as we experience and learn to play the cards and understand the actions of the others there for the game.

Every person engaged in the legislative process is a gambler based on their past experiences and intuitions. It’s about decisions, for which outcomes more than likely are unknown. The good lobbyists make their best guesses that things will turn out more or less one way or the other. They count their cards and know what option still exists, and what’s been played already.

“And somewhere in the darkness, the gambler he broke even. And in his final words, he found an ace that he could keep.”

Over the years, I’d find that during the last several weeks of the session – when it gets “hot and testy” this song would pop into my head. It always felt to me that the song symbolized the rules of the road for a lobbyist – embrace uncertainty and risk; learn from every outcome; maintain composure; and value fair play and integrity.

Knowing you’ve played your hand as best as you could, makes us come back session after session!


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