Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
August 20, 1999
Honorable Nancy Wyman
Office of the State Comptroller
55 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-1775
Dear Ms. Wyman:
In your letter dated July 7, 1999, you requested the opinion of this Office as to whether the provisions of Public Act 97-148 entitle deputy sheriffs and special deputy sheriffs to receive health care benefits at state expense. Because this Office has also received several other letters inquiring whether various benefits are available to special deputy sheriffs, this opinion will consider special deputy sheriffs' entitlement to health insurance and life insurance, vacation and sick leave, paid holidays, personal leave, longevity pay and participation in the state retirement system.
Our paramount conclusion is that the Governor -- acting through the Department of Administrative Services and the Office of Policy and Management -- may immediately confer all of the employment benefits at issue. Some of these benefits are guaranteed by statute, but the executive agencies may now act administratively -- without the need for additional legislation -- to issue benefits beyond the ones specifically enumerated by statute. In short, the Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services and the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management are authorized by Conn. Gen. Stat.§ 5-200(p) to confer, at once, health insurance, vacation and sick leave, paid holidays, personal leave and longevity pay. Alternatively, these benefits may be obtained through collective bargaining or through appropriate legislative action.
More specifically, we reach the following conclusions about the statutory benefits that such deputy sheriffs may receive.
1. The special deputy sheriffs are currently entitled to certain, limited employment benefits, without collective bargaining or action by state officials. Special deputy sheriffs are currently entitled to participate in the state employees' retirement system, and they may receive life insurance after six months' employment. Special deputy sheriffs who meet certain statutory criteria related to length of service and full-time employment status are entitled to receive personal leave and paid holidays. Both deputy sheriffs and special deputy sheriffs may voluntarily participate, at their own expense, in group health insurance procured by the comptroller.
2. All of the benefits at issue, including health insurance, vacation and sick leave, paid holidays, personal leave, and longevity pay, can be conveyed now to special deputy sheriffs by order of the Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services. Public Act 97-148 gives special deputies the right, as of July 1, 1999, to bargain collectively for all of the other employment benefits listed above, including health insurance. Moreover, the Governor may, through the Commissioner of Administrative Services, immediately confer all of those benefits to the special deputy sheriffs. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-200(p) specifically allows the Commissioner, with the approval of the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, to issue orders conferring more generous employment benefits than those granted by statute or conferring benefits that would otherwise be covered by statute.
3. There is no other authority that entitles special deputy sheriffs to the employment benefits listed above. As discussed in Parts I and II of the opinion, we base this conclusion on the express terms and unequivocal legislative history of Public Act 97-148 and the unambiguous provisions of other, related state personnel and labor statutes. Present statements by officials about the legislator's past intent or their current more expansive reading of the law are irrelevant and immaterial. Neither current claims nor statements by individual legislators nor representations by executive branch officials about what they believe the Public Act requires can alter or expand the authority clearly set forth in the statute. Unless and until the law is amended, the statute must be implemented as it was passed.
I. Public Act 97-148
Special deputy sheriffs have long worked outside of the classified service. They are appointed on a nonmerit basis by the county sheriffs, and they are compensated per diem. The position of a special deputy sheriff terminates with the term of office of the appointing sheriff. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 6-41 and § 6-43. Prior to the passage of Public Act 97-148, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 6-43 specifically stated that special deputy sheriffs were not subject to the State Retirement Act, the State Personnel Act, or the State Labor Relations Act (chapters 66 through 68, respectively, of the Connecticut General Statutes).
Public Act 97-148 made several significant changes in Chapters 66 through 68, as well as Chapter 78, which pertains to sheriffs. The overarching, consistent purpose and effect of the Public Act was to make various benefits available to special deputy sheriffs through collective bargaining, as is clear from the terms of the Act and its legislative history. Statements of key lawmakers and the record leading to passage of Public Act 97-148 convincingly show that the Act's purpose was to enable special deputy sheriffs to secure benefits through collective bargaining, rather than by entitlement. When Representative Christopher Donovan presented to the House the joint committees' favorable report on that legislation (Substitute House Bill 5083) and moved for the bill's passage, he explained to his colleagues: "[Special deputy sheriffs] have no health benefits from the State nor any other benefits from the State. This bill, again, would give these individuals the right to collectively bargain...." 40 Conn. H.R. Proc., pt. 10, 1997 Sess. 3657 (May 22, 1997).
Similarly, when Senator Edith Prague presented the joint committees' favorable report to the Senate and moved for the legislation's passage, she stated:
What the bill does is to allow special deputies to have available to them, collective bargaining rights by July 1, of 1999. Currently they have no bargaining rights and work on a per diem basis. What the bill will do is to allow them to bargain for state employee benefits.
...[T]hese special deputies don't have sick days. They don't have vacation days. They don't have any other benefit. And what they're asking for is the right for collective bargaining, so that they can have the same kind of benefits that we have....
40 Conn. S. Proc., pt. 9, 1997 Sess. 2907, 2933 (May 28,1997)
During floor debate, Senator Alvin Penn asked Senator Prague, "Isn't there a way we can give the benefits without the collective bargaining process?" Senator Prague replied, "[Y]es...[I]f you would like to propose a system wherein these employees could get ...benefits, I think that would be a proper Amendment to this bill. But until we get that, ... this is the only way we can go to offer protection that these people are asking for." Id. at 2933-34.
Principles of statutory construction establish the importance of the foregoing remarks in determining legislative intent. The statement of a legislator who reports a bill out of committee "carries particular weight and deserves careful consideration." Bridgeport Hospital v. Commission of Human Rights and Opportunities, 232 Conn. 91, 102 (1995). See also Angelsea Productions, Inc. v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, 236 Conn. 681, 695 n.10 (1996).
In addition to legislators' remarks during floor debate, the statement of purpose of a bill is also indicative of legislative intent. Manchester Sand and Gravel Co. v. South Windsor, 203 Conn. 267, 274-75 (1987). In this case, the statement of purpose for Proposed Bill 5083 asserts that its objective was "[t]o provide employees of the high sheriffs with the same union and collective bargaining rights as other state employees."1
II. The Statutory Scheme
The first section of Public Act 97-148 amended the State Labor Relations Act to define special deputy sheriffs as employees who may bargain collectively with the State. The second section of the Act required that the formation of a bargaining unit for special deputies be deferred until July 1, 1999. That section also provided that "[o]n and after July 1, 1999, special deputy sheriffs shall be subject to the provisions of chapters 66 to 68, inclusive." As discussed below, however, the legislature retained certain provisions in chapter 67 (the State Personnel Act) that specifically limit the rights of special deputy sheriffs to certain benefits. The fifth section of Public Act 97-148 exempted special deputy sheriffs from the classified service. The third, fourth and sixth sections of the Act made special deputy sheriffs eligible to participate in the state employees' retirement system.
The effect of these provisions on the various benefits sought by special deputy sheriffs is discussed below.
The state is not statutorily commanded to provide health insurance at state expense to special deputy sheriffs or deputy sheriffs, but such benefits may be conferred by the Commissioner of DAS pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-200(p), on her own initiative or through collective bargaining.
A specific provision of the State Personnel Act requires deputy and special deputy sheriffs to pay for their health insurance coverage. Conn. Gen. Stat § 5-259(l) states:
Effective July 1, 1996, any deputies or special deputies appointed pursuant to section 6-37 or section 6-43 shall be allowed to participate in the plan or plans procured by the Comptroller pursuant to subsection (a) of this section. Such participation shall be voluntary and the participant shall pay the full cost of coverage under this plan.
This subsection places a distinct limitation on subsection (a) of section 5-259, which makes paid health insurance available generally to state employees. Public Act 97-148 made special deputy sheriffs subject to the State Personnel Act, but it left undisturbed this specific limiting provision in the Personnel Act that requires special deputies to pay for health insurance if they want it.
The legislature's intent to retain subsection 5-259(l) when it passed Public Act 97-148 is evidenced by its explicit decision to supersede other conflicting provisions in the statutes being amended by the Act. In sections six and seven of Public Act 97-148, the General Assembly expressly superseded any conflicting provisions of the State Retirement Act. In each section, the legislature provided for participation by special deputy sheriffs in the state employees retirement system "[n]otwithstanding any provision of chapter 66." In section two, however, the General Assembly did not use any explicit superseding language. As noted above, section two provides that "special deputy sheriffs shall be subject to the provisions of chapters 66 through 68, inclusive." Subsection 5-259(l) remains one of the provisions of Chapter 67. The General Assembly's decision not to supersede that subsection demonstrates its intention to retain it. If the legislature had wanted to extend paid health insurance to special deputy sheriffs, it could easily have done so. See Federal Aviation Administration v. Administrator, 196 Conn. 546, 551 (1985).
It is very significant that the General Assembly retained subsection 5-259(l) when it amended the State Personnel Act in 1997. The legislature is always presumed to know all existing statutes and the effect that its action or nonaction will have upon any one of them. M. DeMatteo Const.Co. v. City of New London, 236 Conn. 710, 715 (1996). Moreover, the specific terms in a statute covering a given subject prevail over general language in the same or another statute. Galvin v. Freedom of Information Commission, 201 Conn., 448, 456 (1986).
Therefore, special deputy sheriffs may only participate in group health insurance on a voluntary basis at their own expense, unless they collectively bargain for paid health insurance or the Governor through the Commissioner of DAS confers this benefit on them pursuant Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-200 (p), as discussed in Part III below.
Sick Leave and Vacation Leave
Similarly, sick leave and vacation leave are not statutorily required or otherwise mandated as of July 1, 1999, but may be conferred administratively because the special deputy sheriffs are not in the classified service. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-247 and 5-250 grant sick leave and vacation pay, respectively, only to a "full-time employee in a permanent position." The term "permanent position" is defined at section 5-196(21) as "any position in the classified service which... is expected to require the services of an incumbent without interruption for a period of more than six months." (Emphasis added). Public Act 97-148 amended section 5-198 of the State Personnel Act by adding subsection (cc), which specifically exempts special deputy sheriffs from the classified service. Because special deputy sheriffs are exempt from the classified service, they are members of the unclassified service, see Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-198 (27), and are, therefore, not automatically entitled to sick leave and vacation leave.
There is nothing in the language of Public Act 97-148 to indicate that special deputy sheriffs are to be treated more favorably or preferentially compared to other unclassified employees. Considering that Public Act 97-148 explicitly exempts special deputy sheriffs from the classified service, there is no logic or fact to conclude that the General Assembly, by implication, intended to effect a result contrary to the express language of that statutory amendment. Where there are two possible interpretations of a statute, the more reasonable construction must be chosen. Pollio v. Planning Commission, 232 Conn. 44, 52-53 (1995).
Like health insurance benefits, as discussed in Part III below, these benefits are available through collective bargaining or by order of the the Commissioner of DAS pursuant Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-200 (p).
Personal Leave and Holiday Pay
A special deputy sheriff may be eligible to receive personal leave and holiday pay, depending on his or her work schedule and length of service. While these benefits are statutorily available to those in the unclassified service, they are available only to "full-time permanent employees." Conn. Gen. Stat. §5-250(c) and §5-254(a). According to the State Personnel Act, "'[f]ull-time employee' means an employee holding a position normally requiring thirty-five hours or more of service in each week." Conn Gen Stat. §5-196(12). "Permanent employee," with respect to members of the unclassified service, means "an employee...who has served in such a position for a period of more than six months...." Conn. Gen. Stat. §5-196(20). Consequently, the statutes authorize personal leave and holiday pay for a special deputy sheriff who normally works thirty-five hours or more each week and who has held his or her job for more than six months.2 Any special deputy sheriff, however, is entitled to time off with pay if the Governor orders time off with pay for salaried employees. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-254(b). As discussed in Part III below, personal leave and paid holidays may be extended to all special deputy
sheriffs through collective bargaining or by order of the Commissioner of DAS pursuant Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-200 (p).
Longevity pay is available only through collective bargaining or by order of the Commissioner of DAS pursuant Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-200 (p). Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-213(a) provides that employees whose compensation is prescribed by statute are not eligible to receive longevity payments. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 6-41 prescribes the compensation for special deputy sheriffs.
As of July 1, 1999, special deputy sheriffs who have been employed more than six months may receive life insurance pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-257. That statute, which is part of the State Personnel Act, provides, in pertinent part: "Each employee in active state service shall be eligible for insurance... provided he shall have completed more than six months' continuous state service."
As previously noted, Public Act 97-148 specifically authorizes special deputy sheriffs to participate in the state employees retirement system. Section six of that Act, which has been codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. §5-187b, concerns special deputy sheriffs who were appointed prior to July 1, 1999. The statute makes those special deputies members of the state employees retirement system, and provides that their vesting and credited service shall be calculated from July 1, 1999. Section seven of the Act, which has been codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-187c, applies to special deputy sheriffs appointed after July 1, 1999. It provides that each appointee shall become a member of the state employees retirement system on the date of his or her appointment, with vesting and credited service beginning on that date.
III. Alternatives for Granting Additional Benefits To Special Deputy Sheriffs
There are three mechanisms through which special deputy sheriffs may obtain benefits greater than those accorded to them by Public Act
97-148. The first method is legislative. As Senator Prague noted in her remarks to the Senate, the General Assembly may enact further legislation to bestow on special deputy sheriffs all of the benefits enjoyed by state employees in the classified service.
The second means is contractual. As the legislative history of Public Act 97-148 makes abundantly clear, after July 1, 1999, special deputy sheriffs may bargain collectively for additional benefits. The special deputies may negotiate a contract that provides benefits retroactively to July 1, 1999.
The third avenue is administrative. The Governor, acting through the Commissioner of Administrative Services, has the authority, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-200(p), to grant benefits to special deputy sheriffs, if they are not included in a collective bargaining agreement. That subsection, which is part of the State Personnel Act, provides in pertinent part:
When such authority is not otherwise conferred by statute, the commissioner [of the department of administrative services] may issue orders to provide that (1) executive or judicial branch employees exempt from the classified service or not included in any prevailing bargaining unit contract...be granted rights and benefits not less than those granted to employees in the classified service or covered under such contracts....Where there is a conflict between an order granting such rights and benefits and any provision of the general statutes, such order shall prevail. Such orders shall be subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management. If the secretary approves such order, and such order is in conflict with any provision of the general statutes, the secretary shall forward a copy of such order to the joint committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of labor matters.
Special deputy sheriffs are in the executive branch of government pursuant to article fourth, section 25 of the Connecticut Constitution and Conn. Gen Stat. § 6-43. Public Act 97-148 defines them as employees for certain purposes. As of July 1, 1999, they are subject to the State Personnel Act (P.A. 97-148, §2, codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 6-43), but they are exempt from the classified service (P.A. 97-148, §5, codified at Conn. Gen. Stat § 5-198(cc)). Consequently, the Commissioner of Administrative Services may exercise her authority pursuant to subsection 5-200(p) to extend to special deputy sheriffs benefits greater than those that have been conferred by statute. She may also extend to them any benefits, including health insurance, sick leave, vacation leave and longevity pay, that are not specifically granted by statute.
Very truly yours,
Thadd A. Gnocchi
Assistant Attorney General
1 Although the proposed bill applied to all employees of county sheriffs, the House of Representatives subsequently amended it to limit its applicability to special deputy sheriffs. The legislation nevertheless retained its original title, "An Act Concerning Collective Bargaining Rights of Deputy Sheriffs, Special Deputy Sheriffs and Other Employees of the High Sheriffs,"
2 Conn. Gen. Stat. §5-254(a) authorizes the Commissioner of Administrative Services to issue regulations granting paid holidays to employees who are not full-time permanent employees. None of the regulatory provisions which the Commissioner has promulgated, however, apply to special deputy sheriffs. See Reg. Conn. Agencies §5-254-2.