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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    Lamont vetoes first bill, has signed more than 150 others

    Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed his first bill from the 2022 legislative session last week. He has signed 157 bills from the session thus far this year, including marquee legislation on mental health, abortion and juvenile crime, among other issues.

    Lamont vetoed Senate Bill 204, which was passed almost unanimously in the House and Senate. The bill, An Act Concerning Damages to Person or Property Caused by the Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle Owned by a Political Subdivision of the State, would “provide that governmental immunity is not a defense in a civil action for damages to person or property caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle owned by a political subdivision of the state,” according to its summary.

    The bill would have essentially no longer allowed a defense of governmental immunity when a municipal vehicle — such as a police car — was involved in a “negligent” accident.

    “This bill does not differentiate between negligence arising out of discretionary versus ministerial acts with a motor vehicle,” Lamont wrote in his explanation of the veto. “I am not convinced that the legislature fully considered the possible consequences of the bill."

    He argued that there are current laws that already forbid public employees operating municipal vehicles from disregarding traffic laws. He sided with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, both of which submitted public testimony opposing the bill, in vetoing.

    “The bill would significantly alter the tort reform statute that was passed over thirty years ago, which — among other things — struck a balance between an injured party’s right to recover damages, and a governments need to function and provide necessary services to residents,” CCM wrote in its testimony.

    State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, was not pleased with Lamont’s decision, and took exception to Lamont suggesting legislators meet with municipal officials about the legislation.

    “Ummm….we did ‘meet,’” Scanlon tweeted Friday. “Municipal officials testified at the public hearing but were unpersuasive. The Judiciary Committee thought them wrong on the law, and all but one legislator agreed.”

    Signed into law

    On Friday, Lamont signed another batch of passed bills into law, including a bill recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday. Juneteenth on June 19 marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers delivered the news to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, that they were freed — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Confederacy had surrendered.

    State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, was one of many Black legislators who spoke in support of the bill during debate on the last day of the legislative session.

    “This is something that for years Black folk have been trying to see emerge from just a commemorative day," he said. "Having a commemorative day is nice, but having a holiday in regards to some significant moments in Black history is just so important for Black people.”

    Lamont elaborated on his support for the bill in a news release Friday.

    “While some elected officials in other states are working to block efforts to teach the true history of our nation, it fills me with pride that here in Connecticut we are embracing that history and working to educate everyone about how our nation was built and the significance of what this day means,” Lamont said in the release. “I firmly believe that ignoring the reality of slavery and the impact that it has had on the United States for many, many decades after it was outlawed is an injustice and does not benefit anyone, of any race or ethnicity.” 

    Also on Friday, Lamont signed a controversial juvenile crime bill that passed with bipartisan support — and widespread reservations — in the state House and Senate.

    House Bill 5417, according to its bill analysis, would allow for "more immediate arraignment and services for juvenile offenders, electronic monitoring in certain circumstances ... expansion of programs serving juveniles and reducing crime, and require the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection to inform the Chief of Police or other appropriate official of the town in which a firearms permit applicant resides if such applicant fails a background check."

    The bill would increase the maximum time, from six hours to eight hours, that a juvenile can be held in lockup without a detention order from a judge. The legislation also addresses an issue Republicans have been raising for months, as it extends access to juvenile delinquency case records and proceedings to municipal agency employees and state and municipal law enforcement officials conducting investigations. Some progressive Democrats and advocates felt the legislation went too far in criminalizing youth.

    On May 24, Lamont signed HB 5202, An Act Exempting Existing Nuclear Power Generating Facilities In The State From The Nuclear Power Facility Construction Moratorium, into law. It pertains specifically to Millstone Power Station in Waterford.

    The bill is meant to allow the state’s existing nuclear power facilities — Millstone — to expand to other nuclear technologies on-site, but not to build a third full-scale reactor.

    As Dominion Energy New England Policy Director Mary Nuara wrote in public testimony on the bill, “Dominion Energy supports the state’s efforts to explore all options available, including advanced nuclear technologies like small modular reactors, to achieve its long-term decarbonization goals.”

    Nuara said there are no immediate plans by Dominion to add a small modular reactors to the Millstone site, as the commercial viability of the technology is "many years away." But Dominion supports the new bill. Unless a federal repository site is designated, spent fuel from new small modular reactors would be stored on-site in Waterford. 

    Lamont signed a bill on May 24 that would raise legislative pay.

    HB 5406 would raise lawmakers' salaries to more than $44,000 base pay from $28,000. The bill came about in part because of Rep. Joe de la Cruz’s, D-Groton, remarks on the first day of the 2022 legislative session.

    "I want to remind you of all the voices that never made it here that would sound like my voice ... because of the limitations we have,” de la Cruz said.

    State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, also spoke in support of the bill.

    “I do not think this chamber, or the chamber upstairs, truly represents the best and brightest this state has to offer,” he said. “And the reason is because this is a hell of a job to take. We’re not part-time, and we’re not full-time. We are too much of each, and not enough of either.”

    On May 23, Lamont signed a bill that OKs religious head coverings for police. State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, led passage of the bill, which would require police in Connecticut to adopt a policy allowing officers to wear religious head coverings while on duty except in units that require officers to use tight-fitting protective headgear. The policy would help those who practice Sikhism in wearing a turban while on the job.

    Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a Norwich city councilor, had submitted public testimony in favor of the bill.

    “After 9/11 Sikhs have been victims of many hate crimes because of ignorance and lack of understanding about Sikhism and its articles of faith, most prominently Sikh turban ‘dastaar,’ but despite many stereotypes, Sikhs have upheld their commitment toward their faith and society,” Khalsa wrote. “This bill will not just help us break those barriers in society created by ignorance, but will help our police departments to hire people from various faith backgrounds that represent our state's diverse population.”

    Also on May 23, Lamont signed a bill protecting children’s mental health, one of multiple such bills raised during the session after the subject became a focus for both Republicans and Democrats due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

    The bill is meant to “improve access to mental health, behavioral health, and substance use disorders, particularly for children, and promote awareness about these insidious problems,” according to its joint favorable report. The bill is intended to expand licensing for behavioral health professionals in order to improve recruitment and retention, increase access to school-based mental health services, cut down wait times for treatment and address other issues.

    The bill also will allow for training for physicians and pediatricians to be able to handle their patients’ mental health needs rather than sending the children elsewhere for treatment.

    In her support for the bill, state Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said, “I cannot emphasize enough how important this bill is to address the mental health needs of all of our children in the state, and all of the other fabulous provisions in the bill that look at workforce development.”

    Lamont signed Senate Bill 10, which requires the state to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity supplied to Connecticut customers by 2040, and Senate Bill 4, a sweeping climate-change mitigation bill meant to reduce emissions and expand the use of electric vehicles in the state, on May 10. Both bills are meant to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare the state for its electric future.

    On May 9, Lamont signed the $24.2 billion state budget adjustment for 2023, which represents a 2.5% increase from last year’s budget. It had broad support from Democrats, while Republicans have opposed it because they say it didn’t go far enough in cutting taxes. The budget included a $600 million tax cut.

    A total of $2.8 billion in state funding will go to municipalities. Bozrah, East Lyme, Griswold, Groton, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lyme, Montville, New London, North Stonington, Norwich, Old Lyme, Preston, Salem, Stonington, Waterford and the City of Groton are in line for almost $200 million.

    Norwich, New London, Groton and Montville have been allocated the most of the region’s towns at approximately $48 million, $43 million, $31.5 million and $17.8 million, respectively.

    Ledyard is slated to receive about $14.6 million, with Griswold at $11.3 million, East Lyme at $8.4 million, Lebanon at $5.2 million, Preston at $4.4 million, North Stonington at $3.8 million and Salem at $3 million. Stonington could receive an estimated $1.9 million, Bozrah $1.6 million, Waterford $1.1 million, Old Lyme $900,000, Lyme $350,000 and the city of Groton $73,000.

    Also on May 9, in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court decision that indicated it planned on overturning Roe v. Wade, Lamont signed House Bill 5414, which protects out-of-state women from prosecution for getting an abortion in Connecticut and Connecticut medical providers from legal actions taken against them from another state. It also now allows advanced-practice clinicians — such as advanced-practice registered nurses, or APRNs, and nurse-midwives — in the state to perform aspiration, or suction, abortions in addition to medication abortion.

    s.spinella@theday.com

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