Did you ever wonder what members of the Connecticut General Assembly do during the summer months when the legislature is no longer in session?
Well, the consensus is that they're not all heading to the beach during that time or sitting around doing nothing. In fact, most lawmakers surveyed for this article said the summer months typically give them more time to review policy issues that could come before the General Assembly next session, address constituent concerns and get out into their local communities to interact with residents, as opposed to the hustle and bustle of the session itself when lawmakers sometimes find themselves needing to review lengthy bills in a matter of hours and in session late, late into the night.
"There's a lot of work that happens when we're not in session. We still have about the same volume in terms of constituent casework," said , a Democratic State Representative who represents Manchester's 12th Assembly District. "There's a lot of planning and trying to work out the thorny policy details of bills for when the session starts in January."
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Luxenberg said he just recently met with a constituent to "try and figure out the policy details" of a bill dealing with long-term care insurance that he plans to introduce during the next legislative session.
"I think that's the best thing for the summer is that you can go out and meet one-on-one with your constituents everyday," said Luxenberg. "It's representative government at it's best. You have the time to actually listen and figure out what people want you to do and what they're looking for from you to represent them in state government."
The Connecticut General Assembly is typically in session from early February through early May, although sometimes it will convene for a special session after it adjourns during the summer or fall. Members of the General Assembly are paid, per state statute, a base salary of $28,000, which has not been raised since January of 2001, while ranking committee members, committee chairs and minority and majority leaders all earn slightly more. The highest paid members of the General Assembly are the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, who both receive a salary of $38,689.
Despite the low pay, lawmakers say the job requires a great deal of commitment, both in session and the other nine months out of the year.
"I don't see an offseason, quite honestly." said , a Democrat who represents the 4th State Senate District, which includes the towns of Manchester, Glastonbury, Bolton and Marlborough, who added that with a district that encompasses more than 105,0000 people "there are always things that have to be done. You're on the phone all the time, you're trying to develop ideas, you're trying to make things happen."
Cassano recently travelled to Denver, CO, to take part in a national two-day conference of state legislators, where he said he discussed ways to create more jobs and opportunities for Connecticut working families, and said he typically spends three or four days a week at the State Capitol in Hartford attending hearings and events. Plus, Cassano said, he uses time when the legislature is not in session to attend more community events and reach out to constituents.
"It's bridge building, it's idea building. You can't survive in this business without communicating with people," Cassano said. "You've got to go out there and connect."
State Sen. Gary LeBeau, a Democrat who represents the 3rd State Senate District, which encompasses East Hartford, East Windsor, Ellington and South Windsor, tells a similar story to Cassano.
LeBeau said he typically spends the majority of his days at the state capitol, whether in session or out, but that when the General Assembly is not in session things are "much more even keel," which is to say that he only spends 10 to 12 hours a day dealing with policy and constituent issues, as opposed to the upwards of 18 hours a day LeBeau said he can spend working in session.
"There's a lot of laying groundwork," LeBeau said. "I have time to read some of the materials more than I would normally do during session."
LeBeau spent the better part of an afternoon last week meeting with a professor from the University of Connecticut discussing what the state could possibly do to help make Connecticut one of the leading states in training workers for the field of metrology (the science of measurement).
But lawmakers are people too, and have work and life commitments outside of the legislature as well.
David Baram, a Democrat who represents the 15th Assembly District, which includes portions of Bloomfield and Windsor, said he spends much of his time out of session dealing with his "day job." Baram is a partner in the law firm of Clayman, Tapper & Baram.
"I'm essentially fully engaged in my law practice when we're out of session," Baram said, adding that his "day job" sometimes has to take a backseat to his duties as a legislator during the session. "I make scheduling adjustments during the session so that I can participate at the legislature for hearings and meetings. "
Baram, like most lawmakers, said that the summer also gives him more time to spend with his family, compared to during the session when hearings can sometimes stretch long into the night.
"When you're involved with political life, you have to remember that your family life is just as important and you have commitments and you need to not neglect them," he said.