Attorney General: Mortimer A. Gelston, State of Connecticut Siting Council, 2002-029 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

August 30, 2002

Mortimer A. Gelston
Chairman
State of Connecticut Siting Council
Ten Franklin Square
New Britain, CT 06051

Dear Chairman Gelston:

In your letter of June 17, 2002, you requested that I issue an opinion regarding whether the $12,000.00 annual cap on compensation for members of the Connecticut Siting Council (Council) contained in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-50j (f) is a limit on total compensation or only compensation for attending hearings. This subsection states:

The public members of the council, including the chairman, the members appointed by the speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate and the four ad hoc members specified in subsection (c) of this section, shall be compensated for their attendance at public hearings, executive sessions, or other council business as may require their attendance at the rate of one hundred fifty dollars, provided in no case shall the daily compensation exceed one hundred fifty dollars. The annual compensation for any member for attending such hearings shall not exceed twelve thousand dollars a year.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-50j (f). An examination of the various amendments to the public members' compensation provisions demonstrates that the General Assembly views hearings as a separate and distinct function, for which it has applied a cap, from other compensable activities of Council members for which there is no cap. While the language of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-50j (f) currently makes a distinction between "hearings" and "executive session, or other Council business" for compensation limits, the General Assembly may wish to consider whether the statutory compensation limit should be made applicable to all of the Council's responsibilities to ensure that the Council conducts its business in an efficient, cost-effective manner. At the same time, any such cap should avoid inhibiting or discouraging Council members in performing their highly important work.

In interpreting statutes, we are guided by well-established principles:

" 'Generally speaking, the presumption is that the words of a statute are used in their ordinary sense. Nonetheless, there should be inquiry as to the language used, its context, pertinent antecedent legislative history, related subject matters with which the subject matter deals, its operation as it may be interpreted, the conditions and circumstances under which it was enacted, and all other matters calculated to throw light on the subject' 1 B. Holden & J. Daly, Connecticut Evidence (2d Ed. 1988) § 50, p. 22."

Hudwillow Street Apartments v. Gonzales, 68 Conn. App. 638, 647, 792 A.2d 165. (2002).

Prior to Public Act No. 76-282, the provision in question was codified as Subsection (d) of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-50j and stated as follows: "The public members of the council, including the chairman, and members appointed by the speaker of the house and president pro tempore of the senate, shall be compensated for their attendance at public hearings or, executive sessions at the rate of fifty dollars per day, provided in no case shall the daily compensation exceed fifty dollars." Public Act No. 76-282 deleted the word "or" before "executive sessions" and added the words "or such other council business as may require their attendance" after the words "executive sessions". During proceedings on the Senate floor on April 29, 1976, Senator Amenta stated that a purpose of the bill was to "authorize compensation for council members for attendance at council business generally in addition to their presently authorized compensation for attendance at public hearings and executive sessions." 19 S. Proc., Pt. 6, 1976 Sess., p.2325. One month earlier, on March 16, 1976, the Council submitted to the General Assembly's Joint Standing Committee on Regulated Activities a statement noting that council members are:

. . . required to make personal observations of areas in proposed or alternate routes that are the subject of applications, are required to meet with consultants for discussion of reports prepared either for docket numbers or pursuant to legislative mandates, attend meetings and make personal inspections with regard to the subject matter of petitions brought before the council and perform other general duties which although necessary, cannot be considered attendance at a public hearing or executive session. Plus, not all council meetings are held in executive session.

In addition to the foregoing, any member of the council but especially the Chairman, is obliged to make frequent visits to the office of the council to direct the conduct of routine business.

Joint Standing Committee Hearings, Regulated Activities, 1976 Sess., p. 121. Thus, the General Assembly was well aware that Council business extended far beyond hearings and specifically provided compensation for these duties.

The enactment of Public Act No. 83-569 is key to the question of the limitation of compensation. Section 3 of that Act increased the daily compensation for hearings from $50 to $100, while leaving the daily compensation for all other council activities at $50. It also increased the daily cap generally to $100 from $50 to recognize the higher compensation for attending hearings. Finally, it added the following sentence: "The annual compensation for any member for attending such hearings shall not exceed four thousand dollars a year." Except for an increase in the amount, this sentence has remained unchanged to the present. The proceedings of the General Assembly do not reveal any discussion over this language. Nonetheless, the legislature clearly distinguished between hearings and other compensable Council activities when it provided higher compensation for hearings and lower compensation for other Council business and limited application of the annual cap to hearings.

Public Act No. 86-336 increased from $4000 to $8000, the annual compensation for members attending hearings, but left all other wording in the paragraph the same. The last change occurred in Public Act 88-161, which brought the compensation for attending executive sessions and other Council business in parity with the compensation for attending hearings and substituted $12,000 in place of the $8000 in the sentence limiting annual compensation for "...any member attending such hearings…."

Statutes must be interpreted as they are written. See Rosnick v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 172 Conn. 416, 422, 374 A.2d 1076 (1977); Liistro v. Robinson, 170 Conn. 116, 129, 365 A.2d 109 (1976); Mancinone v. Warden, 162 Conn. 430, 439, 294 A.2d 564 (1972). It has been often said that the legislative intent is to be found not in what the legislature meant to say, but in the meaning of what it did say. Wiegand v. Heffernan, 170 Conn. 567, 581, 368 A.2d 103 (1976); Colli v. Real Estate Commission, 169 Conn. 445, 452, 364 A.2d 167 (1975); Sillman v. Sillman, 168 Conn. 144, 148, 358 A.2d 150 (1975). Where the language used by the legislature is plain and unambiguous, there is no room for construction by the courts and the statute will be applied as its words direct. Baston v. Ricci, 174 Conn. 522, 528, 391 A.2d 161 (1978); Johnson v. Personnel Appeal Board, 174 Conn. 519, 521-22, 391 A.2d 168 (1978); Clark v. Mulcahy, 162 Conn. 332, 338, 294 A.2d 504 (1972). Here, the legislature, in enacting Public Act No. 83-569, distinguished between compensation for attending hearings and compensation for other council business and then imposed an annual cap for compensation for "attending such hearings." The cap only applied to compensation from such hearings. Later, when the legislature equalized the amount of compensation for hearings and the compensation for other council business, it did not to amend the language regarding the annual cap. Thus, the annual cap still only applies to compensation for hearings.

While the language of the statute places a limit on compensation only for attendance at "hearings", the legislature may wish to revisit this area and consider applying the statutory compensation limit to Council members' attendance at "executive sessions, or other Council business" to ensure that all of the Council's responsibilities are fulfilled in an efficient, cost-effective manner. At the same time, any such cap should avoid inhibiting or discouraging Council members in performing their highly important work. This issue may be relevant to the legislature's possible consideration of general measures improving the current system.

Please advise me if any further clarification is required.

Very truly yours,


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL



Robert S. Golden, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General

RB/rsg


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