Legislature keeps liquor and Route 11 bills moving

Hartford - Bills authorizing Sunday alcohol sales, future Route 11 tolls, red-light intersection cameras and mixed martial arts fights continue on course through the state legislature after picking up additional approvals Monday from the finance committee.

The alcohol law bill would allow Sunday grocery beer sales and let Connecticut package stores be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays for the first time. It would also give stores the option to sell up to one alcoholic item per month below cost and increases from two to three the number of package stores that one individual or corporation can operate.

The General Assembly's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee voted 39 to 11 to push the liquor bill forward, with Sen. Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook, the only local lawmaker voting no.

A separate bill that would legalize and regulate mixed martial arts matches passed the committee on a 46-4 vote. Three of the four "no" votes came from the southeastern Connecticut delegation, where lawmakers' districts include many casino employees.

Mixed martial arts fights are currently permitted at the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, which are owned by sovereign Indian tribes. But the fights are not allowed off the reservations. If the bill passes, the casinos could lose a regional monopoly on the sport.

"Currently, this activity is happening in Connecticut," said state Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, a committee co-chair. "It is, however, unregulated at the current time, so perhaps this is a step in the right direction."

Democratic Reps. Ted Moukawsher and Elissa Wright of Groton voted against the fights bill, as did Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford.

The bill defines mixed martial arts as unarmed combat involving techniques from various martial arts disciplines, such as kicking, grappling and jujitsu.

In testimony last month for a public hearing, a representative of the XL Center in Hartford predicted that if the sport were legalized in Connecticut, his venue would enjoy many sell-out fights.

The legislation would subject mixed martial arts to most of the state laws and regulations governing boxing. No one under age 18 would be allowed to participate in the fights or even attend a match without a parent or guardian.

"It's not something that I am interested in promoting in this state," Stillman said. "I just don't understand the purpose of the activity."

Moukawsher called mixed martial arts fighting "barbaric" and "brutality masquerading as entertainment."

In a later interview, he said he wasn't subject to any lobbying by the casinos to oppose the bill.

"I just don't think as a state we should be endorsing that," he said. "I've seen it on TV and it disturbs me."

Route 11 tolls

In other action, the committee voted 27 to 23 on a bill that would allow E-ZPass-style tolls along the proposed new part of Route 11 - an 8½-mile stretch between Salem and a planned three-way interchange in Waterford connecting with Interstates 95 and 395.

The total project has been estimated at $843 million to $924 million, with up to $400 million going to the new interchange. DOT is scheduled to finish a traffic study by December that would estimate the potential revenue from such tolls.

"I think it's an important part of the puzzle as we try to improve our transportation system in Connecticut, especially southeastern Connecticut," Stillman said.

But Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said she was reluctant to set a precedent with Route 11 for reintroducing tolls to Connecticut roads.

"Why so much effort and expense on such a small stretch of roadway?" she said.

Red-light cameras

The committee voted 31 to 19 on a bill that proponents said would allow five to six large Connecticut cities to introduce red-light cameras for traffic-law enforcement. The fine could be up to $50 per violation, with additional administrative fees up to $15.

Moukawsher spoke out against the bill, arguing that "we're going to be raising money from what I would consider, for the most part, law-abiding citizens" who roll through red lights. "It's simply a way to fleece people," he added.

But proponents emphasized that the legislation only extends to certain municipalities the option of installing the cameras. The goal is improved intersection safety, they said, not revenue generation.

Democratic Sen. Steve Cassano of Manchester said his city could use the cameras to catch motorists who routinely blow through red lights at speeds as high as 50 or 60 miles per hour.

Moukawsher, Stillman and Wright voted against the red-light cameras bill. Daily voted for it.

j.reindl@theday.com

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