Budget climate defines legislative agenda

By Janine Weisman
January 1st, 2017

With a projected $1.3 billion deficit in the fiscal 2018 state budget, Connecticut lawmakers will again face the prospect of raising taxes and fees and cutting services when they convene in Hartford Jan. 4 for the General Assembly’s 2017 session.

So, it’s on purpose that the Connecticut Psychological Association has not developed a long list of priorities for its legislative agenda for the new year. Last year saw cuts in state spending across all sectors, including mental health and human services.

“I think everyone’s in more of a defensive mode right now, protecting what we have and paying attention to what is going on in the process as things change,” said Traci Cipriano, J.D., Ph.D., director of professional affairs for the association representing about 300 of the state’s psychologists.

Marcy Kane, Ph.D., who  succeeded Cipriano as CPA’s new Legislative Chair on Jan. 1, said she expects to see few initiatives coming to the legislative table this year because of the state’s fiscal crisis.

“I think a lot of time will be spent this legislative session in trying to protect services and not cut back services, human services, than really doing much else quite frankly,” Kane said.

Connecticut’s state budget is completed in odd-numbered years, when the legislature meets from January to June. Uncertainty surrounding the transition of administrations underway in Washington, D.C. has dominated political conversations, but the more pressing concern is what will be its impact on a state where lawmakers are looking for ways to cut spending and increase revenues, Kane said.

“A lot of folks are saying, ‘Gee what do you think is going to happen with Donald Trump?’ I think some of us are sort of wondering what’s going to happen at the state level,” Kane said.

“We know that in Connecticut, history tells us that sometimes one of the first areas to be cut … is social services, human services. And so, I think a lot of us are concerned what Medicaid rates will look like if our budget continues in a pretty significant deficit.”

CPA will look out for any legislative proposals that would threaten to undermine their profession or raise the overhead costs, Kane said.

That includes keeping tabs on any efforts that would increase the licensing fees for psychologists. At $565 ($570 for renewal) annually, Connecticut already has the profession’s highest licensing fee in New England, posing a challenge for early career psychologists. Other states in the region charge about half that amount or less with biennial renewals.

“Our fee is almost as much as medical physicians in Connecticut,” Kane said. “There is a huge disparity between us and the rest of the licensed individuals. Licensed social workers, license marriage and family therapists pay really significantly less.”

One small but important legislative activity to protect the profession will be to seek an amendment adding a series of safeguards to a new law that took effect Oct. 1 authorizing the use of psychology technicians in Connecticut.

CPA had supported the new law, which permits such technicians to provide objective psychological or neuropsychological testing services under the supervision and direction of a licensed psychologist, because it can reduce wait time for an exam and expedite the process of obtaining diagnosis and treatment, said Timothy Belliveau, Ph.D., ABPP.

Technicians had been prohibited in Connecticut since the mid 1980s, despite being prevalent in other states, he said.

“This will really be more of a technical amendment,” said Belliveau, director of postdoctoral training and research in the department of psychology at Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, Connecticut.

The law already specifies the educational and training requirements for psychology technicians.

Belliveau said CPA would seek to add language requiring a licensed psychologist to be on site whenever a technician is working and limit technicians to a maximum of three per individual licensed psychologist.

CPA will also seek new language requiring the licensed psychologist to retain documentation about the dates and details of each technician’s training and establish a process of informed consent to make patients and families aware they can choose between a technician or a licensed psychologist to administer psychological testing.

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