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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Conn. House unanimously passes ‘street takeover’ bill

    The Connecticut House on Wednesday voted unanimously to advance legislation that would allow municipalities to levy financial penalties against people who impede public roadways or parking lots with their motor vehicles with the intent to cause disorder or create a nuisance.

    House Bill 5413 passed the House chamber on a 148-0 vote, advancing it to the Senate, where it will need another affirmative tally to go to the governor.

    The bill would provide municipalities with the option to adopt ordinances to levy financial penalties against people organizing, participating in, or gathering with the intent to observe or actually observing a “street takeover.”

    Under the proposal, municipalities could set fines up to $1,000 for a first offense, $1,500 for a second offense and $2,000 for all subsequent violations, as opposed to the current maximum penalty for an ordinance violation of $250.

    The bill also establishes a 45-day revocation of a person’s driver’s license if they violate the statute, except for when a third offense occurs, when the state would then permanently strip away their ability to drive.

    “I think we all have heard from our constituents, and I think we’ve all seen the TV reports about street takeovers that are occurring not just here in Connecticut but frankly throughout the nation,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “The danger that that is causing on our roadways, the precarious position that that’s putting motorists in — in an unenviable position that police are then placed into as a result of being outnumbered by the illegal use of, altering vehicles and other types of vehicles.”

    Lawmakers did not cite any publicly available data that would quantify the scope of the problem with street takeovers in Connecticut, though there are anecdotes of them occurring in places like Meriden, North Haven and Tolland.

    House Republicans consumed most of the debate on the bill, voicing their overwhelming support for the legislation but also using it as an opportunity to reaffirm their stance that the state needs a tougher approach to crime, despite violent crime trending downward.

    Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco of Wolcott raised concerns about the bill allowing municipalities to penalize people who merely observe a street takeover but who are not participating in or endorsing it.

    Stafstrom said that an individual who, hypothetically, walks down the street to observe a street takeover out of curiosity would not be violating the statute because it would not be considered gathering with the intent to observe, which he noted means people who are directly involved. However, it is unclear what criteria law enforcement across the state’s municipalities would use to make that determination.

    “Although I think overall it’s a good bill, I’m very concerned about the part where somebody just freely moving through society — people are curious. ‘Hey, I want to grab my neighbor; I want to go down there.’” Mastrofrancesco said. “I’m concerned that if an ordinance was passed, that they could certainly be perceived as being part of that street takeover when, in fact, they’re just really observing.”

    The Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Office of the Chief Public Defender share those concerns. The Office of the Chief Public Defender submitted written testimony earlier this year highlighting the negative effect the legislation could have “for youth who lack the maturity to appreciate their actions or who may be in a place with no way to remove themselves due to where they reside.”

    “The permanent revocation, for life, of a person’s license, with no possibility of obtaining such, will carry with it severe collateral consequences which can impede a person from obtaining, among other things, employment,” wrote Deborah Del Prete Sullivan, legal counsel for the Division of Public Defender Services.

    An earlier version of the bill would have required a mandatory minimum period of incarceration for people who violate the law, but Judiciary Committee lawmakers removed it earlier in the session.

    On Wednesday, the House also removed a part of the bill that would have required the governor’s budget office to administer, within available appropriations, a program to award municipalities grants to enforce the law. It was taken out due to Democratic leaders recently disclosing that they wouldn’t formally adjust the preliminary $26 billion budget approved last June for the 2024–25 fiscal year.

    ctmirror.org

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