It was a short legislative session, but the House and the Senate were able to move a lot of business this year, including the passage of a $24-billion budget with around $600 million in tax cuts.
Here are just a few of the proposals that cleared both chambers of the legislature before the clock struck midnight Wednesday and are awaiting action by Gov. Ned Lamont, as well as a few more that didn’t make the cut.
Mental Health Services For Kids
Lawmakers signaled early they intended to prioritize mental health services for kids after several hearings on the subject revealed the pandemic had exacerbated existing deficiencies in the available services. Before the session ended, the legislature passed three bills that address children’s mental health. HB 5001, SB 1 and SB 2 all seek to address the children’s mental health crisis highlighted by the pandemic. They come with a steep price tag of $223.2 million.
The bills address an expansion of funding for school-based health centers and increase the number of early childhood slots. It also sets aside funding for minority teacher recruitment.
State labor unions were able to win $3,500 bonuses and 2.5% raises and step increases that amount to $1.87 billion over four years.
The General Assembly also passed the “captive audience” bill, long-sought by the state’s labor unions. It prevents employers from requiring employees to remain at meetings where they impart political or religious views.
Connecticut taxpayers will see $600 million in tax cuts over the next year, including a continuation of free bus fare and the 25 cent gas tax holiday through Dec. 1.
Parents will be able to claim a $250 child tax credit early this summer up to $750 for three children. Low-income working families will see an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit. The budget also expands eligibility for a property tax credit and increases it from $200 to $300.
Other tax breaks include a provision that allows 75 towns to lower their car taxes and another provision speeds up a plan to eliminate taxes on pensions and annuities.
The budget leaves much of its surplus unspent, ensuring the state can make a scheduled $3.58 billion contribution to its long unfunded $95 billion pension debt.
Connecticut legislators voted this year to raise legislative compensation for the first time in 21 years. A bill approved in back-to-back votes Tuesday boosts the $28,000 base legislator salary to $44,000, keeping it roughly in line with inflation over the last two decades. The bill also avoids the need for future debates on the subject by tying compensation to the Employment Cost Index to be adjusted every two years if necessary.
The bill will also impact the pay of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of the state, treasurer, comptroller, and attorney general by linking those salaries to the compensation of state judges.
Senate Democrats made good on one of their unfulfilled priorities last year by adding Connecticut to a small but growing list of states adopting regulations to protect consumers more transparency and control of personal data collected about them by companies on the Internet.
The bill, approved on bipartisan votes in both chambers, gives consumers the right to view or delete data and opt out of its sale or targeted advertising. It requires certain companies to disclose and minimize the data they collect. The bill also restricts targeted advertising to children and sale of their data.
Voters who want to vote by absentee ballot in the future will be given that opportunity. The definition of sickness, a valid excuse not to show up at the polls, was expanded to include COVID-19. The legislation also allowed commuters who were gone for a substantial amount of Election Day to vote by absentee ballot.
Tesla, Rivian, Lucid
A familiar proposal to allow the direct-to-consumer sales of high-end electric vehicles, often called the “Tesla Bill,” expired on the Senate calendar for the second consecutive year. The bill sought to create an exception to a state law requiring auto manufacturers to sell their vehicles through franchise dealerships. Proponents have maintained the change would boost EV uptake and create jobs. Dealers and traditional manufacturers say it would simply give a handful of companies an unfair leg up.
Flavored Vape Ban
Before it could reach the House or the Senate, the tax-writing panel opted to scrap both the outright ban and bill’s nicotine cap and restrict the sale of flavored vaping products to adult-only tobacco stores. In addition to concerns about fostering an underground market, some lawmakers worried the original bill would reduce access to vaping products for cigarette smokers looking for cessation products.
Aid in Dying Advocates
A bill that would have allowed a mentally competent person with six months left to live to receive a prescription to end their life failed again after a referral to the Judiciary Committee. This is the second year in a row the bill was able to clear the Public Health Committee but failed to win support in the Judiciary Committee.
In the past, the bill has drawn support and opposition from both sides of the aisle. Proponents argue the policy, which has been adopted in some form in 10 other states, gives dying residents a choice at the end of their lives. Opponents, including some religious organizations and people with disabilities, argue the bill endorses suicide over improvements to end-of-life care.
Cannabis advocates who rallied outside the Capitol this year were handed a defeat on the last day of the legislative session when the Senate gave final approval to a bill that would prevent cannabis bazaars. These bazaars were places where the cannabis community would gather and sell goods or products and then hand over cannabis to anyone over the age of 21 who paid an admission fee.
The bill still allows the gifting of cannabis between family and friends.