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Route 11 plan among a long list of also-rans

Hartford - The 2012 General Assembly session may best be remembered as the year of education reform, death penalty repeal, medical marijuana and, of course, Sunday liquor sales.

But lawmakers took action - and inaction - on hundreds of other legislative proposals that affect residents and taxpayers. Some of these bills got the green light and now await the signature of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

But most of them didn't.

Of the legislation with local ties, one prominent failure was the bill to authorize E-ZPass-style tolls on the future, second half of Route 11. Money collected from the tolls was to help finance the state's expected 20 percent share of the road project's costs, estimated at $843 million to $924 million.

The bill cleared the Senate this year but never came to a vote in the House - the opposite result of 2011, when it stalled out in the Senate.

Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, a lead proponent, attributed this year's defeat to toll-adverse House Republicans who queued a whopping 35 proposed amendments to the bill. Carrying such a heavy load, debate on the bill could have stretched an entire afternoon and perhaps into the evening. So Democratic leadership never introduced it.

"It just became obvious that the Republicans were literally going to talk it to death, and there just wasn't any way to get them to compromise on floor time," Jutila said.

Another unsuccessful bill would have banned "look-alike firearms" from school grounds, including paintball and BB guns. It would also have made it illegal to remove or cover up the required red-orange tip on fake guns.

Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, introduced the bill in response to a close-call incident outside Stonington High School in December. A Stonington police officer responding to a call about a potential shooter on school grounds had to plead with a student making a video to drop his fake but realistic-looking gun.

Urban's bill expired in the legislature's public safety committee.

Committee co-chairman Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, recalled how committee members had many unanswered technical questions, brought to their attention by sportsmen groups. For instance, would the legislation affect real guns that might appear fake, such as bright-pink handguns?

"Guns and gaming always get complicated here," Dargan said.

Another bill, introduced by Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, would have forced travel websites like Priceline and Expedia to stop pocketing the difference between the occupancy tax they charge customers for a room and the lower amount based on a room's wholesale price that gets passed on to the state. The websites contended that this money is their "service fee," but bricks-and-mortar hotels disagree.

Wright's bill never emerged from the finance committee. On Friday, she attributed the death to a reluctance by committee leaders to "reopen" the state's revenue package this year.

Yet, barring any surprise gubernatorial vetoes, 2012 saw a number of local legislative successes, including:

• A bill championed by Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, to protect cemeteries from coastal erosion.

• A bill that extends the sales tax exemption for winter boat storage by two months, and the use tax exemption for boat storage, maintenance and repair by one month. Both exemptions would now apply from Oct. 1 to May 31.

• A bill introduced by Wright that restricts the use of the insecticide methoprene, which has been linked to the decline of lobster populations.

• Two-pronged legislation that tightens regulations for harvesting scallops from the Niantic River and helps students at the Marine Science Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut sell their aquarium-raised tilapia and rainbow trout.

• A bill backed by Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, that allows diabetic students to self-test their blood glucose levels anywhere on school grounds, with permission from parents or guardians. The bill also allows non-medical school employees to administer emergency glucagon injections to diabetic students. Reynolds added his provisions to the bill based on testimony of George and Karen Hosey of Ledyard, whose son has diabetes. "The bill could very well save lives," he said.


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