The Senate gave final passage Thursday to a more than 800-page budget implementer bill despite complaints from leading Democrats over language eliminated by the House to limit the collection of some user data by digital companies.
Lawmakers approved the enormous bill, primarily designed to implement the two-year, $46 billion state budget on a 20 to 6 vote during a special session Thursday. The Senate had previously passed the bill Tuesday but the upper chamber had to reapprove the measure to reflect changes made Wednesday night by the House.
Although they eventually adopted the language, not all of those changes were well-received by the Senate. Majority Leader Bob Duff and Sen. James Maroney, co-chairman of the General Law Committee, expressed “extreme disappointment” in the House decision to remove consumer protection language on corporate data retention.
“Data privacy is what the consumers want. We have a crisis of privacy in our country right now,” Duff said, listing a handful of technologies capable of collecting consumer data. “Our TVs are literally listening to us, they’re watching us. They know exactly what we’re doing, when we’re doing it and right now these companies are profiting off of every single keystroke.”
Duff said the language inserted into the implementer bill would have given consumers a way to access or delete data collected about their technology use. It would have also allowed them to opt out of letting their digital information be sold or used for targeted advertising.
House Speaker Matt Ritter explained the deletion to reporters Wednesday, saying there was not adequate support to pass the provision.
“[T]he data privacy section, that had not been worked out entirely in the committee process. Again, it’s not to be disrespectful to anybody. It’s just our caucus wasn’t there yet,” Ritter said.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora agreed that the language sought by Duff had not been vetted through the committee process. He said there was bipartisan support for removing it from the implementer due in part to concerns that it posed compliance issues for many companies in Connecticut, including health care systems, insurance companies and internet providers.
Candelora said there had been agreement to run another, bipartisan data privacy bill in the implementer but the Senate passed a hybrid of two separate proposals, which Candelora called “unworkable.”
“The sole reason why that bill did not run is because it wasn’t the agreed upon language that was voted out of the committee,” he said.
Candelora said he felt the House showed greater respect for the committee process this year. “Oftentimes in the Senate we saw legislation that was dramatically changed outside of the committee that was sent back down the House. That is why so many bills this session were amended and sent back to the Senate.”
One of those bills received final passage Thursday. A broad voting proposal that was passed by the Senate but never raised by the House was approved in the implementer. The bill makes permanent the absentee ballot dropboxes installed during the pandemic and restores the voting rights of people who are on parole. The bill also broadens to other agencies the motor-voter system which automatically sends voter registration forms to eligible residents.
In a press release, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the proposal’s passage would make it easier for Connecticut voters to make their voices heard.
“The story of Connecticut is one of the expansion, slowly but surely, of the right to vote,” Merrill said. “Easing the delivery of absentee ballots, making registering to vote more convenient and voter rolls more accurate, and allowing every citizen in their community to cast a ballot are all important chapters in that story.”
Senate President Martin Looney described the implementer bill approved Thursday as “not quite as good” as it was when his chamber had sent it to the House. But he urged lawmakers to support the proposal.
“We will be back on those points again next year,” Looney said. “But I urge support on this implementer today because it does provide the superstructure and enables us to go forward with the strong, I think, and effective and consensus budget.”