Connecticut lawmakers, in night of normalcy, wrap up session
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers closed out the 2022 legislative session Wednesday night after passing juvenile crime reforms, limits on marijuana advertising and making Juneteenth a state holiday, while also expressing gratitude that things were getting back to normal after two years of pandemic restrictions.
The top Democratic and Republican leaders of the House of Representatives both expressed appreciation for the normalcy of the night, which included the traditional hurried passage of bills before the midnight deadline.
“It’s really really really special to look down and see everybody standing here because I’m not sure we all thought this was possible two months ago let alone two years ago,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, looking out over the House membership.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said it was important for lawmakers to get back to normal. “We did some great work,” he said. While public hearings and committee votes were held mostly virtually, House and Senate sessions were held in person throughout the three-month session. Lawmakers did have the option of voting from their offices.
While hundreds of bills died on the vine at the stroke of midnight, per usual, many of the major bills of the three-month-long session have already cleared the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in recent days.
The list includes one of the first abortion-related bills to pass in years in Connecticut. It expands who can perform abortions to include advanced practice registered nurse, nurse-midwife or physician assistant. It also attempts to protect Connecticut providers from legal action stemming from out-of-state laws, as well as the patients who travel to Connecticut to terminate a pregnancy and those who help them.
Lawmakers voted along mostly party lines to revise the one-year, $24.2 billion state budget that contains roughly $600 million in tax cuts and increases state spending for a major mental health initiative and social service programs — all thanks the state’s best fiscal figures in decades and subsequently lots of money to spend. Connecticut is projected to end the fiscal year on June 30 with a $4.8 billion surplus. Revisions to the second year of the two-year budget passed last year include about $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
“We’ve bemoaned our inability to meet these needs for the last 10 to 15 years since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven. “Now we’re making good on a promise that we regretted not being able to fulfill back then.”
While Republicans supported many of the initiatives that passed this year, including the mental health bills inspired in part by psychological fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve accused the majority Democrats of squandering this unique financial opportunity to make systemic changes to Connecticut’s tax system — as well as spending too much. It’s an accusation that will likely to come up in this year’s legislative and gubernatorial campaigns.
“Connecticut Democrats have overtaxed our families and their immediate reaction is to overspend and grow an unaffordable government, not provide the level of relief Connecticut families are asking for now,” said Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford.
Lawmakers were facing a midnight adjournment deadline. While governors traditionally address a joint session of the General Assembly once the final gavel is struck, Lamont was forgoing an appearance this year. House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said some legislators were concerned about so many people gathering in the hall of the House of Representatives as the state’s COVID-19 infection numbers have been climbing. He said it’s “maybe a tradition that’s time has come and gone.”
Here are highlights of some key bills that passed on the final day of the session:
Procedures for juvenile arrests are updated under a legislation that cleared the Senate. It’s part of an effort to clamp down on juvenile crime in Connecticut. Among the changes, an arrested juvenile must be brought before a judge within five business days after the arrest, and courts are allowed to order electronic monitoring if the child has been charged with a second or more vehicle or property thefts. The bill also increases the maximum period, from six to eight hours, that a juvenile may be held in a lockup without a judge’s order.
Tougher restrictions on marijuana advertising cleared the Senate, including barring ads from cross-border retail cannabis establishments such as the billboard ads that have popped up along the state’s border with Massachusetts. It prevents anyone without a Connecticut cannabis-related license from advertising the product and cannabis-services within the state. The same bill also bars Connecticut licensees from using images of the cannabis plant as well as from advertising on an illuminated billboard between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. and from advertising within 1,500 yards of a school or church.
The same bill tightens rules for “gifting” marijuana. Some legislators have raised concerns about cannabis bazaars, where people “barter” for marijuana, essentially circumventing the state’s regulated marketplace.
A bill that prevents job licensure boards from imposing blanket bans against groups of people based on their record of arrest or conviction cleared the Senate. Instead, the legislation allows such boards to review people’s licensure applications individually. The boards would be allowed to deny someone a license because of an arrest or conviction only if it’s related directly the person’s job.