Welcome to The Hartford Portfolio, Yankee Institute’s update on what’s happening at the State Capitol during the legislative session.
Here’s some of what we saw in Hartford this week:
To Go Green or Not To Go Green
The General Assembly’s Transportation Committee returned to the perennial question of whether electric car manufacturers like Tesla should be able to sell directly to consumers. Current state law says new cars must be sold through licensed dealerships, which doesn’t fit Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model. The fight dates back to 2015, with dealerships arguing that the current ban on direct sales is necessary as a consumer-protection measure. Tesla describes the law as “insulating auto dealers from new sources of competition.” This year’s push took an early detour after a group characterized a political fundraiser as a bid to “move fence-sitters” in the General Assembly to adopt the bill. Governor Lamont is aiming to have 500,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030, and Democrats are pushing for a clean air bill that would, in part, increase rebates for electric vehicle purchases.
One Size Fits All?
The Planning & Development Committee returned to a contentious proposal to overrule local zoning policies in areas around train and major bus stations.
Advocates believe this measure – known as transit-oriented development — will help solve Connecticut’s housing crisis by mandating towns and cities allow for “as of right” development of housing with a minimum overall gross density of fifteen dwelling units per acre located within a half-mile radius of a train or bus station. 10% of the units will be set aside for affordable or assisted housing. “As of right” means the municipality cannot require a public hearing or vote on a proposed development. The change would reportedly affect 40 towns and cities, largely along Connecticut’s I-95 corridor and between New Haven and Hartford.
Yankee Institute president Carol Platt Liebau warned the committee that “this legislation treats the General Assembly as a public policy Walmart that would force through sweeping changes in bulk.” She also noted that “discussions about Connecticut housing costs rarely confront how the high cost of local government inflates rents, or the fact that one of the state’s key measures for affordability disregards housing built before 1990.”
You can read Yankee Institute’s full testimony here
Flavored Vaping Bad, Cannabis Good
After failing last year, the Public Health Committee is again trying to ban the sale of flavored vaping products under the guise of protecting children from nicotine products that advertise flavors like cotton candy and mango berries. The law could force some small businesses to close. In case you haven’t heard, Connecticut’s new retail cannabis law – much celebrated by some of the same people who would ban flavored vaping products — would allow for the sale of marijuana infused gummy bears and chocolate bars. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already cracked down on vaping products to ensure their safety. Retail cannabis will be restricted to adults aged 21 or older, just like vaping products. Many smokers switch to vaping as a healthier alternative.
Tax Relief and Hollywood Welfare
The Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee, on Tuesday heard testimony on two bills that will give tax relief to the states working and middle-class. SB383 will increase the Earned Income Tax Credit from 30.5% to 41.5% and HB5403, which creates a refundable child tax credit against the state income tax. The tax credit will be up to $600 per child.
The committee also heard from Hollywood looking for a handout. SB385 will increase the amount of Digital Media Tax Credit. Proponents of the bill say the increase will bring economic development to communities and local businesses.
The Department of Economic Community Development (DECD) had Olsberg SPI, which bills itself as a strategy consultant for the creative industries, publish a report this year that shows film tax credits are a huge success for the state. CT Voices for Children, in their testimony, said they “were concerned about the findings of an analysis that relies in large part on a survey of producers that may have ongoing or potential future financial incentive to continue the tax credit.”
A previous study, performed in house by DECD, showed a $585 million revenue loss to the state from 2010 through 2019.
Eating Outside and Absentee Voting
The House voted (121-21) in favor of extending temporary provisions put in place last year that helped retailers and restaurants survive after state mandated shutdowns. HB5271 extends as-of-right outdoor dining and retail activities until April 30,2023.
The chamber also passed HB5262 which allows voters to vote by absentee ballot if they are unable to appear at a polling place due to sickness or physical disability. Representative Gale Mastrofrancesco stated “it is an opportunity to do backdoor, no excuse absentee voting before the voters in the state have a chance to make the decision on the ballot.” She offered an amendment, that was voted down, to require signature verification, noting that other states that allow no excuse or early voting verify signatures and some states even require a copy of a driver’s license or other form of identification.