Connecticut lawmakers who walked through the state Capitol building’s parking lot Wednesday had the opportunity to inspect a display of high-end electric vehicles but the fate of legislation to allow the direct-to-consumer sales of those vehicles remains uncertain in the Senate.
New models from Tesla, Rivian and Lucid were parked on the south side of the Capitol complex as part of an Electric Vehicle Day event. All three exclusively electric vehicle manufacturers have lobbied the legislature for an exemption to a state law requiring auto companies to sell their vehicles through franchise dealerships.
The legislation, once known as “the Tesla bill,” has been before the General Assembly for years and although a version of it once passed the House of Representatives in 2015, it has never been raised for a vote in the Senate. Last year, it expired on the Senate calendar due to inaction.
As of Wednesday, the bill was again awaiting action in the Senate. Sen. Will Haskell, a Westport Democrat and one of the bill’s chief proponents, said Wednesday he felt momentum was building in favor of the legislation but declined to speculate on support among the chamber’s majority Democrats.
“I’ve been pleased to see, just anecdotally, outside today a whole bunch of my Republican colleagues looking at vehicles, talking to businesses that desperately want to open up shop in Connecticut and create good-paying, green collar jobs,” Haskell said.
However, the question of whether the bill sees a vote on the Senate floor rests with the chambers Democratic leaders and in a statement Wednesday, Senate President Martin Looney said it was up to Haskell to wrangle adequate support.
“Senator Haskell is championing this bill in the state Senate and talking with members about the merits of Senate Bill 214,” Looney said. “Once Senator Haskell has indicated to our Majority Leader Senator Duff and to me there is enough support for this bill, we expect to call it for a debate and a vote if there is sufficient time.”
The exemption contained in the bill has long been opposed by Connecticut’s franchise auto dealers who are also increasingly in the business of selling electric vehicles and argue it would be unfair to carve out a loophole for a handful of manufacturers who chose not to play by the rules.
That argument has historically found traction with some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Heather Somers, a Groton Republican on the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said a handful of companies have “marketed” the bill as if Connecticut barred the sale of their vehicles.
“Tesla, Rivian — they could sell here today if they want,” Somers said. “Connecticut’s not preventing them from selling here. They just don’t want to follow our franchise laws and we have dealers that contributed close to $630 million to our state coffers that follow the system we’ve had for years. They sell 45 models of electric vehicles.”
Although the bill once had adequate support to clear the House, Democratic leaders there told reporters Wednesday they were waiting for the Senate to move on the issue before polling their members on support.
“We wait for the Senate to act and see if it has support up in the Senate. Then it’s a conversation we’ll have down in the House but up until this point, we don’t have that bill before us,” House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said during a late-morning briefing.
With only three weeks left in this year’s short legislative session, opportunities for Senate action are limited. And for Haskell, who announced in January he had opted to attend law school rather than seek re-election, time is running short to shepherd the bill across the finish line. Haskell said the electric vehicle sales bill was among several priorities he hoped to see pass before the end of his term.
“To be honest with you, I feel pressure on this bill and a million others,” Haskell said. “I feel as if this is my last bite at the apple on a whole host of public policies that I believe deeply in. I am trying to make every second of every remaining day count.”