HARTFORD, CT—As another session of the General Assembly comes to a close with a mad scramble against the clock, let’s take a look at some of the bills that passed and others that came up short and will be left up to some future legislature and governor to tackle.
After several years of trying, and failing, undocumented students can now apply for financial aid at Connecticut public colleges and universities as legislation allowing it finally made it across the finish line this year.
The bill was SB 4.
In a signing ceremony, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the legislation is probably even more important in a society “that has taken a turn for the worse.” He said the president’s comments have “sought to demonize the battle we’re in over DACA” and “punish children.”
Previously, state law denied access to the financial aid system for these students, despite the fact that they were required to pay into it through their existing tuition.
Advocates say the passage of SB 284 makes Connecticut the first state in the nation to ensure equal benefits for veterans with “bad paper” discharges resulting from the effects of trauma.
The Connecticut Chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America celebrated the passage of the bill extending state veterans’ benefits to former service members discharged from the U.S. military under Other-than-Honorable conditions, and who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or sexual trauma during their service.
An estimated 19,000 workers who care for the developmentally disabled will be receiving their first raises in a decade.
The House and Senate passed HB 5460, increasing wages for these workers to $14.75 an hour.
The legislation also helped 2,400 of the 19,000 workers avoid a threatened May 7 strike.
The legislation will provide for a wage of at least $14.75 an hour for all workers and a one-time, 5 percent raise for workers who make more than $14.75 an hour.
The raises are expected to cost the state about $22.8 million a year after the 50 percent Medicaid reimbursement is applied. With a Jan. 1 start date the amount required in fiscal year 2019 would be $11.4 million.
National Popular Vote
Connecticut is the latest addition to the National Popular Vote Compact, embracing the idea that the winner of the popular vote should win the presidency.
The Senate and House gave approval and then the governor signed into a law HB 5421, which adds Connecticut to the National Popular Vote Compact. The compact will take effect if/when states possessing 270 electoral votes (a majority of the 538 electoral votes) enact it into law.
Thus far the compact has been enacted by a total of 12 states including Connecticut, possessing 172 electoral votes. That’s still 98 shy of the 270 votes needed to allow the group to designate its votes to the winner of the popular vote.
To get on the ballot the resolution needed to be approved by a three-quarters vote of both chambers. It passed the Senate 35-0 and the House 118-32, just four votes more than the three-quarters needed to get it on the ballot.
Gun Safety Advocates
Connecticut will be one of a handful of states that has already taken action to ban bump stocks, which are devices that increase the rate of fire for semi-automatics.
Lawmakers were prompted to pass HB 5542 following the October 2017 shooting at a Las Vegas concert that left 58 people dead and hundreds of others injured. Police say bump stocks were used in that crime.
The Senate sent the bill to Malloy’s desk on 26-10 vote after the House had approved it 114-35.
Victims of Domestic Violence
The passage of SB 466 means that Connecticut police will have the authority to determine the “primary aggressor” in domestic violence situations, rather than arresting the victim along with the abuser.
According to a report by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, since the passage of the dual arrest law in 1987, Connecticut police officers have been arresting both parties involved in domestic violence incidents 20 percent of the time. That’s more than double the national average.
Rep. Robyn Porter, a New Haven Democrat who is a domestic violence survivor, said “it’s time.” She said no victim should have to worry about being arrested when they call the police. The bill got final passage on a 147-1 vote in the House.
Crumbling foundation Homeowners
The House and Senate passed and he governor has signed SB 518, which will add a $12 surcharge to every homeowner insurance policy in the state to help homeowners with crumbling foundations in about 40 north central Connecticut towns, as well as others whose homes are sinking in New Haven.
Drug pricing controls
A bill imposing stricter reporting requirements on pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers easily passed the House and Senate.
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, called the legislation, HB 5384, “groundbreaking.”
Scanlon said the law would require drug companies to justify any prescription drug price increase exceeding 20 percent in any year. Additionally, drug companies will have to justify any price increase of more than 50 percent over a three-year period.
The legislature unanimously passed “An Act Concerning Procedures Related to Collecting and Processing Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits” to improve the processing of sexual assault evidence kits at the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory and to also ensure that victims are treated in a compassionate way throughout the process.
The bill, SB 17, improves upon a 2015 bill that started to address a large backlog of nearly 900 untested rape kits in Connecticut.
The bill is titled “An Act Concerning Pay Equity” because it is thought it will help women receive higher wages throughout their career even though it applies to everyone regardless of gender.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said women make 83 cents on the dollar doing the same job as men.
Essential Health Benefits
The legislature overwhelmingly approved “An Act Mandating Insurance Coverage of Essential Health Benefits and Expanding Mandated Health Benefits For Women, Children And Adolescents.”
The bill, HB 5210, calls for the 10 essential health benefits introduced under the Affordable Care Act to be codified into Connecticut law. The law requires that they remain in place regardless of what happens in Washington.
Fair treatment of female prisoners
A bill prohibiting the shackling of female prisoners who are pregnant was sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. The bill codifies what has been the practice at the state Department of Correction since 2015.
The legislation, SB 13, would also allow female prisoners to pump and store their breast milk so their babies could benefit.
The legislation also requires the state to provide female inmates with feminine hygiene products for free and “in a quantity that is appropriate to the health care needs of the inmate.”
The law also requires the Correction Department to provide at least one licensed health care provider who has been trained in prenatal and postpartum medical care to be employed at the York Correctional Institution.
The AFL-CIO sent a letter to legislative leaders asking them for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, Paid Family Medical Leave, and to prevent employers from holding captive audience meetings.
“If any or all of these bills fail to get a chamber roll call vote, we will consider counting them using our vote tallies and official co-sponsorships as of May 1, 2018, as part of our Connecticut AFL-CIO legislative scorecard,” AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier wrote legislative leaders on May 3.
The unions got none of those priorities through this year.
The minimum wage bill that failed was HB 5140.
Those who lobbied for Connecticut’s broken and broke highway system to be fixed by a long-awaited plan to install tolls on Connecticut highways were bitterly disappointed.
The biggest proponent was House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D- Berlin, who insisted for weeks that there would be a House vote on tolls before the session ended.
But late in the session Aresimowicz conceded he didn’t have the votes to send it to the Senate where it likely would have been defeated.
Aresimowicz blamed the lack of information about the necessity of tolls and a constant narrative that suggests “Connecticut sucks at all costs.”
One of several toll bills that failed was HB 5391.
Proponents who have been pushing to legalize recreational marijuana this year got a “small victory” when HB 5394 made it through the Appropriations Committee. But that’s as far as it got.
Neither the House or the Senate took it up for a full vote in their chambers.
Another one of the pot legalization bills that failed was HB 5582.
After promises to implement a state-based individual health insurance mandate, the legislature never resurrected legislation that was killed by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee.
It also failed to push across the finish line a bill, SB 384, that would require insurance companies to treat mental illness and behavioral health the same as a physical illness. It passed the Senate, but never got called in the House.
MGM, Bridgeport and New Haven lawmakers
They didn’t get the casino expansion bill called in the Senate.
Bridgeport and New Haven lawmakers pushed hard to get support for a casino in Bridgeport — stating it was about economic development for the New Haven and Bridgeport corridor, which could stretch as far south as Fairfield and as far north as North Haven.
But there were not only competing entities looking to build additional casinos in and near the state, but also competing legislative factions within the legislature as well.
In the end, it just didn’t work — for anyone.
Sex assault, harassment victims
The House failed to take up legislation that would have eliminated the statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes and also require sexual harassment training for staff at businesses with more than 20 employees. The bill was passed by the Senate but ran into opposition in the House.
The House adopted a “Resolution Proposing a State Constitutional Amendment to Permit Early Voting,” but it did not get called for a vote in the Senate.
Under the House resolution, HJ 28, a system would have been established by the General Assembly to create an early voting period during the 14 days preceding elections.
The Senate was able to pass a bill that would give Connecticut’s utility regulators an opportunity to prohibit internet service providers from throttling internet speeds, blocking websites, or imposing prioritized pricing. But the bill never got raised for a vote in the House.
For several years Tesla, the Palo Alto, California-based automobile manufacturer, has been trying to pass legislation to circumvent Connecticut’s auto dealer franchise requirements in an effort to sell its signature electric vehicles directly to consumers here.
The Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association has opposed Tesla’s efforts each year, claiming that the company should work through the same regulatory structures and associated consumer protections that other manufacturers have adhered to for decades.
This year’s bill, HB 5310, was tabled in April after being passed by both the Transportation and Finance committees. The legislature instructed the company to come back once it had brokered an agreement of some kind with the state’s locally owned retailers.
While the casino discussion dominated most of the debate related to gambling this year, the sports betting industry also made its pitch to the state to legalize their operations here.
The bill, HB 5307, was tabled at the end of April despite a visit to the state Capitol the previous week by former Celtics great Cedric Maxwell and Al Leiter, who starred for both the New York Mets and New York Yankees.