Welcome to The Hartford Portfolio, Yankee Institute’s update on what’s happening at the State Capitol during the legislative session. This year is known as a “long session” because it generally runs from January to June in odd-numbered years.
Vision Zero Council Has Zero Vision
A public hearing is scheduled on Monday for a bill that will allow an unelected bureaucrat to use eminent domain power to seize land for bike trails. The bill contains recommendations from the Vision Zero Council (VZC) — established by the General Assembly in 2021 — who was tasked with developing statewide policy to eliminate transportation-related fatalities and injuries involving pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, motorists and passengers.
If passed, starting July 1, 2023, the commissioner of CT Department of Transportation (CTDOT) will have the ability take any land they find necessary for the layout, alteration, extension, widening, change of grade or other improvement of any bicycle lane or multi-use-trail. They will be allowed to purchase any land and take a deed thereof in the name of the state.
The bill will also authorize municipalities to install cameras to fine motorists for running red lights and exceeding the speed limit “by ten or more miles per hour.” Fines range from $50 for a first violation and $75 for a second or subsequent violation. Municipalities can also impose a fee of $15 for the cost of electronically processing the payments of fines.
Motorists will also be forced to watch a video concerning current traffic laws and the need to practice safe driving before they can renew their driver’s license.
The commissioner is also charged with performing a study on prohibiting automobiles from turning right on red and allowing bicyclists to treat stop signs as a yield sign and red lights as a stop sign.
State Police Get a New Contract
The General Assembly voted almost unanimously to approve a new contract for almost 900 Connecticut State Troopers. The new four-year contract comes with a price tag of roughly $70 million, offers a $3,500 bonus and 2.5 percent pay raises over the next three years with a wage re-opener in the fourth year.
Lawmakers praised the deal believing the increase in pay is the silver bullet to put an end to declining recruitment and retention rates along with the massive amounts of money spent on overtime. According to Rep. Michael D’Agostino (D) the department, “lost 400 of our state police in the last four years” and that “young police officers are going to neighboring municipalities, [but] they are not becoming state police.”
Throwing money at the problem may not get the results lawmakers are looking for. According to 2019 International Association of Chiefs of Police survey, the recruitment crisis is caused by applicants — who appear to be strong candidates — failing the background check or divulge disqualifying information later in the hiring process, as well as the public image of law enforcement. Additionally, millennials and Gen Z’ers are more interested in careers with flexible hours and guaranteed timed off rather than mandated overtime and holiday shifts.
The contract passed 142-1 in the House and 35-1 in the Senate.
Labor Committee Sides with Unions Over Taxpayers…What Else is New
The Labor and Public Employees Committee recycled a bill from 2020 that allows probate court employees to be recognized as state employees for the purpose of collective bargaining. The change would affect roughly 316 employees in 54 probate courts and six regional children’s probate courts.
Currently, probate court employees work for their individual courts. Hiring decisions are made at the local level by the elected judge. This gives each judge the ability to select and supervise the employees who interact with the public on their behalf.
Betsy Gara, Executive Director of Connecticut Council of Small Towns, testified in 2020 that, “municipalities have a tremendous stake in ensuring that the probate court system remains financially viable so that towns are not require to incur any additional costs.”
A similar bill introduced in 2015 estimated the cost to be anywhere from $400,000 to $1 million depending on how the employees were organized.
Fair Share Bill Has Atlas Shrugging
The Housing Committee voted to have a bill drafted concerning fair share housing plans for municipalities. Sen. Martin Looney (D) — a proponent of the soon-to-be drafted bill — is looking to create better equity in housing by prohibiting excessive rent increases (in other words, capping the amount of rent a landlord can charge).
Lawmakers have yet to define what the cap will be, but one bill introduced by Rep. Hilda Santiago (D) calls for no more than an increase of $100 per month.
Last week during a joint committee informational forum, Dr. Robert Dietz, Senior Vice President for Economics and Housing Policy for the National Association of Home Builders, cautioned against, “reaching for policies that don’t work.” He warned that rent control is a policy that, “99% of economists agree” does not work because it “acts as a tax on supply” and limits “additional construction that addresses housing affordability challenges.”