The New Year has rung in some new laws and rules on issues ranging from gun rights and the minimum wage to immigration control and transgender rights, and for good or ill, Connecticut is becoming a more liberal place in 2014.
The change that likely will end up affecting the most people is the raise in the minimum wage. This is something Democrats, especially those on the left, have long been pushing for at the state and national levels. The wage rose to $8.70 on Wednesday, and by Jan. 1, 2015, the wage will be $9. Democrats, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, claimed the wage hike will lift people out of poverty. Well, it certainly won’t hurt, but as Malloy critic Jonathan Pelto points out it won’t actually raise most above the poverty line.
The other new laws that have gotten a lot of attention are all about gun control. Citizens with assault weapons and high-capacity magazines must now register them with the state, and a new registry of people convicted of weapons offenses now exists.
These laws may or may not keep massacres like Newtown from happening; this is the kind of law that’s going to be very hard to measure. One thing I’m sure of, though, is that ridiculous stunts like sending banned gun magazines to the governor and other officials as some sort of “message” will continue throughout 2014. Nice work, gun rights activists.
A law that didn’t get much attention is a change in the rules for how local authorities deal with civil immigration detainers. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses detainers to hold people who are detained by law enforcement for another 48 hours beyond their scheduled release while ICE decides whether to take the person into custody. This is the sort of thing that lends itself to abuse, and the ACLU change in criminal justice rules is the requirement that interrogations be videotaped or otherwise recorded in order to be admissible. The law only applies to felonies and there are some exceptions, but otherwise this is a positive step forward for due process and the rights of the accused.
Lastly, though this had nothing to do with the legislature, the Insurance Department quietly directed all insurance companies operating within Connecticut to cover treatments related to gender transition for transgender people. This means services like mental health counseling, hormone replacement therapy, and various surgeries are now actually covered.
For someone who isn’t trans, this isn’t huge or earth-shattering. But for the thousands of Connecticut residents (myself included) who are, it’s a huge deal. These things aren’t cheap, and most insurance policies have very specific exclusions for transgender people. For many, this puts the cost of medical transition and mental health counseling out of reach. Both of these things can literally be life savers. This new rule change, which has now happened in five other states in addition to Connecticut, does a lot to undo discrimination in insurance that dates back to the Reagan era.
All of these changes mean that, at least at the governmental level, Connecticut is becoming more liberal in 2014. Wages for the poorest are slightly higher. The state is more tolerant of LGBTQ people, immigrants, and prisoners, while being less tolerant of gun owners.
Is this a good thing? Again, that depends on who you are, and where you fall on the political spectrum. I think by and large it’s good. I think we could be more friendly and open toward business while raising the minimum wage. The two don’t have to be opposed to one another. We can raise wages while making it easier to run a business here. I’m not bothered by assault weapon bans, though offender registries always have a potential for abuse or injustice. The liberalization of laws concerning transgender people, immigrants, and prisoners makes the state more just and fair, however, and that’s the kind of state I want to live in.
So welcome to a slightly more liberal Connecticut this January. We still have a long way to go toward making the state welcoming to everyone, but we’re making a bit of progress.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.