Outdoor ceremonies, protests mark new Connecticut session

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers returned to the state Capitol on Wednesday for a socially distanced opening day, complete with an outdoor swearing-in ceremony in chilly January, a pre-taped address from the governor and protesters concerned about everything from vaccination rules for schoolchildren to pandemic restrictions.

Staff members at the legislative complex have been working for months planning for what will be an unusual 2021 session.

“I look at it as historic,” said Jim Tamburro, executive director of the Office of Legislative Management. “People will be talking about this session for years and years and years, probably forever, when they look back and say, ‘What the heck happened in 2020-21? How did they handle that?’”

Tamburro said he doesn’t know if members of the Connecticut General Assembly ever took the oath of office outdoors. Past Connecticut governors, as recent as Republicans M. Jodi Rell and John G. Rowland, have done so, however.

Hundreds of protesters turned out for the swearing-in ceremonies. Many held up signs expressing support for President Donald Trump, or opposing any legislative effort to eliminate a religious exemption for vaccinations of schoolchildren. Others voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement or pushed for racism to be declared a public health emergency.

Barriers were set up to keep the protesters at a distance from the legislators.

Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives were being sworn in on opposite sides of the state Capitol building. Most lawmakers have been discouraged from inviting family and friends to the event, which traditionally has been a joyful day full of hugs and handshakes.

After the swearing in, legislative leaders are expected to give speeches in their respective chambers before a limited number of colleagues. Most legislators will watch the proceedings from their offices, including a pre-recorded 12:30 p.m. address by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who is expected to reflect on the pandemic that has taken the lives of at least 6,200 in the state.

Lawmakers will also vote on rules for the session. House members are able to vote from the offices while members of the much smaller Senate are expected to vote in limited groups inside the Senate chamber.

While much of the session is expected to be dominated by the state budget and issues related to the pandemic, lawmakers are still expected to consider a wide range of legislation including increasing access to affordable housing to legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana and sports betting.

Considering the 2020 legislative session ended early because of the pandemic, there are a lot of pent-up issues. Legislators will start getting down to work on Thursday. That’s when the first committees are scheduled to hold their organizational meetings — on Zoom and YouTube.

“There’s no shortage of ideas and issues.” said Senate Majority Leader Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, in a recent interview. “The challenge will be how this all works remotely.”

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