Welcome to The Hartford Portfolio, Yankee Institute’s update on what’s happening at the State Capitol during the legislative session
Finally, Yankee Institute is Back in Hartford!
For the first time since the pandemic, lawmakers have re-opened the Capitol, allowing the public to attend in-person hearings. Yankee Institute (YI) had the opportunity to submit testimony on several bills this week.
YI President Carol Platt Liebau kicked off the week urging lawmakers to oppose a bill that would grant the Department of Transportation (DOT) commissioner to use eminent domain powers to create bike paths. Everyone can agree that bike paths add value to our communities, but they are not necessary in terms of need; further, wanting them is not enough for unelected bureaucrats to seize private property.
The bill also gives municipalities the thumbs up to install “automatic traffic enforcement safety devices.” Proponents of the bill would rather have constant monitoring by law enforcement than leave responsible adults to drive, stating the measure is for everyone’s safety on the roads. However, lawmakers fail to recognize we are a free society and should not be encouraging the government to monitor our every move.
Meanwhile, YI’s Director of External Affairs, Bryce Chinault, testified in front of the Planning and Development Committee in support of legislation that would require public comment periods at public agency meetings.
The bipartisan proposal will empower the public to engage with policymakers, bringing further transparency to government actions, while increasing the likelihood that state and local governing bodies will consider all the effects a policy may have throughout Connecticut.
Mr. Chinault also expressed support for increasing the tangible personal property exemption paid by businesses from $250 to $1,000 which is more than 10 years old. Businesses that already paid sales tax on items like cabinets, computers, printers, desk chairs and office supplies are forced to pay yearly local personal property taxes on all assets not permanently attached to the physical location.
An owner of a construction company in Torrington voiced her support in written testimony stating the bill offers “a small concession” when combatting the increased costs of fuel, electricity, materials and other expenses. Anticipated to pay more than $27,000 in personal property tax this year, she wrote, “knowing that our legislators support a bill that recognizes our struggles and attempts to offer some relief would greatly be appreciated.”
The Housing Committee met on Thursday (Feb. 2) to hear from constituents about ways to address the state’s housing crisis by making it worse. One bill expands on a law adopted last year that forced municipalities with a population of 25,000 or more to establish a “Fair Rent Commission” by July 1, 2023. The bill lowers the threshold to towns with 10,000 residents or more. This unfunded mandate gives these commissions broad powers to police rent increases, subpoena landlords, and investigate whether proposed hikes are “harsh and unconscionable.” Besides requiring taxpayers to fund their operations, the bill would also subject localities to the cost of potential litigation if landlords should challenge the loosely defined parameters used by commissions.
Another bill establishes a “right to housing” with a goal to implement policies that protect and fulfill a right to affordable, decent, safe and stable housing for every resident of the state. Betsy Gara from the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST) noted that the state already requires municipalities to come up with plans that assess affordable housing needs and identifies barriers to meeting those needs. She further stated that the bill duplicates these efforts, “in a way that may undermine the efforts that have been made to promote more affordable housing opportunities in this state.”
The bill also creates a 17-person committee charged with reviewing existing and proposed housing policies. The committee is exclusively made up of tenant advocates and leaves out those with hands-on construction/maintenance experience.
Additionally, Ms. Liebau finished the week supporting legislation that provides more funding to school districts, but stated that by continuing to restrict its attention only to government schools — whether public, charter, or magnet — the legislature continues to fund a system, rather than a student. “We can do better, and we must. A family’s ability to choose the school they believe will offer their children the best education should not be a luxury available only to the rich,” she testified.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Sen. Martin Looney (D) is proposing that if someone is killed in a motorcycle accident while riding without a helmet their organs are up for grabs regardless if that was the desire of the victim or their family. The bill’s statement of purpose is to improve public health.
Organs aren’t the only thing the General Assembly is looking to take away this week. Flavored cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ECigs) are also on the chopping block, and so is the ability to criticize elected officials as lawmakers proposed a new process of reporting and enforcement of online harassment. The proposal’s purpose is to protect them from harassment, never mind the fact that the state already has laws preventing such actions. However, what is preventing the reverse — where are online harassment protections for the general public against elected officials?
Are those cricket sounds or have those protections not been considered?