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Connecticut lawmakers OK late changes to state budget that drew criticism from major employers

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — Connecticut lawmakers approved some late changes early Tuesday morning to the new Democratic state budget that had drawn criticism from major state employers because of its tax increases on businesses and others.

"We did hear the voices of those who had some concerns," said Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

But members of the General Assembly's minority Republicans seemed unimpressed by the 11th hour revisions, negotiated over the past several weeks by the legislature's majority Democratic leaders and Democrat Gov. Dannel P Malloy's administration.

Both General Electric Co. and Aetna Inc. had threatened to move their operations out of Connecticut after the budget bill narrowly passed June 3, the final day of the regular legislative session. Governors from other states have since been running radio and newspaper ads, trying to entice Connecticut firms to move.

Lawmakers met in a special session to take up the late budget changes, as well as some other unfinished legislation. Both the House of Representatives and Senate approved bills addressing excessive use of force by police and the governor's criminal justice reforms.

The Senate passed the budget-related bill on a 19-17 vote. The House approved it early Tuesday morning, even though a litany of GOP House members voiced frustration with the legislation, which was crafted without Republican input, and how it doesn't address future projected budget deficits they warned could lead to even more tax increases in years to come. The Hartford Courant reports (http://cour.at/1GJpq70) the House approved the measure by 78 to 65, with 8 members absent early Tuesday. Two House Democrats, David Alexander of Enfield and John Hampton of Simsbury, joined with Republicans in voting against the measure.

Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said the amount of tax increases scaled back in the two-year $40.3 billion budget, which takes effect on July 1, were "absolutely nothing" as a percentage of the overall budget. Legislative Democrats said the new plan rolls back about $180 million of the approximately $1.5 billion in tax increases.

"It is the wrong budget and it is going to set Connecticut back," said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven.

The revised plan scraps a proposal to increase the state tax on computer and data processing. It will remain at 1 percent. The changes also include delaying until January a proposal requiring corporations with a presence in Connecticut and other states to determine their tax liability based on the net income of the entire group. It also sets aside more funding for hospitals and nursing homes and exempts the first $1 million earned by ambulatory surgical centers from a new 6 percent gross receipts tax.

However, it still includes other tax increases, including a higher income tax rate for high wage earners.

Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, reminded lawmakers the bill sets aside funds to address high property taxes and transportation improvements.

"The underlying budget that we passed and what we modified provides for landmark legislation to address two of the most major, most significant concerns of the business community of Connecticut," he said.

Lawmakers approved legislation requiring municipal police officers from departments receiving certain grants, the Connecticut State Police and public university police to use body cameras beginning July 1, 2016. The bill, which passed the House 108-37 and Senate 36-0, also requires officers to be trained in using the cameras, as well as bias-free policing and cultural competency and sensitivity.

The state bond package, which cleared both chambers, includes $15 million for grants to local departments so they can purchase the body cameras.

"When a technology such as body cameras has attracted the support of both law enforcement and victim advocates, you know its time has come," Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said.

Another bill that includes provisions of Malloy's so-called Second Chance Society passed the House 98-46 and Senate 23-13. It would reclassify drug possession as a misdemeanor instead of a felony and provide offenders with an opportunity to be evaluated for drug dependency. It also would reduce the enhanced penalty for drug possession near schools or day care centers from a two-year mandatory sentence to a misdemeanor. The changes would not, however, affect people charged with the sale of narcotics or possession with the intent to sell.

"We're going to try to afford individuals a different path," said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield.

Malloy said the legislation allows law enforcement to focus more on putting serious, violent criminals behind bars.

The budget-related bill, hundreds of pages long, touched on a host of issues, including a new minimum wage of $15 an hour for certain personnel who work for companies with the contracts with Office of Legislative Management, which runs the state Capitol complex.

PHOTO: From left, Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, Rep. Robyn Porter, D-Hew Haven and Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford  catch up before the start of the Connecticut General Assembly's special session on Monday, June 29, 2015 in Hartford, Conn. At right is Martin J. Dunleavy, clerk of the House of Representatives. Both the House and Senate will vote on the state budget as well as criminal justice bills. (Patrick Raycraft/The Hartford Courant via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
From left, Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, Rep. Robyn Porter, D-Hew Haven and Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford catch up before the start of the Connecticut General Assembly's special session on Monday, June 29, 2015 in Hartford, Conn. At right is Martin J. Dunleavy, clerk of the House of Representatives. Both the House and Senate will vote on the state budget as well as criminal justice bills. (Patrick Raycraft/The Hartford Courant via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

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PHOTO: Rep. Angel Arce, D-Hartford, speaks with House clerk employee Georgette Cicero, left, on the Senate floor before the start of a special session Monday, June 29, 2015 in Hartford. The Connecticut legislature delayed the start of its special session on Monday morning, June 29, 2015, in Hartford. The House and the Senate are revisiting the state budget as well as pending criminal justice bills.   (Patrick Raycraft/The Hartford Courant via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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