In This Issue:
From Paddi's Desk
CT Agency Corner
This Day in CT History
It’s almost a month into the 2023 session, and we’re about to hit some deadlines next week. An important deadline already passed on January 13th which allowed individual legislators to submit ideas (proposed bills) that they heard about during the recent election cycle; ideas that didn’t make it to the governor's desk last session; or something that caught their attention at the many forums, legislative conferences and local meetings attended over the past year. This year we saw 2,400+ individual proposed bills introduced and shortly, that number will be whittled down after committees reach the committee bill deadline by the end of February/beginning of March, where any proposed bill that has not had a subject matter public hearing, or been turned into a committee bill will die..
If you take a look at the deadline dates for the multiple steps of how a bill becomes law, you’d wonder how anything happens under the gold dome. There are more twists and turns throughout the process right up to the final committee action deadline (referred to as JF day -joint favorable, approved for chamber action). For much of the next two months, you’d think we were all speaking a foreign language with all the jargon and the alphabet soup of acronyms!
The focus for the next couple weeks will be for committees to start to approve additional topics of import and turn them into raised bills which means they take a bill concept and fully draft language which outlines the who, what, when, where and how of the solution. Then, the committee holds a public hearing to get the feedback from interested parties, state agencies, statewide elected officials, the Governor’s Office and legislators. As early as next week, the first of many public hearings will take place bringing in dozens, hundreds even thousands of people to the capitol or through the virtual platforms to provide insights, approval, opposition, or even suggestions on how to make the proposal better.
As you probably can guess it’s a pretty “interesting" event at the Legislative Office Building at times. Next week for example, the passionate supporters and opponents of the controversial proposal allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores will hit the General Law Committee's public hearing. It's anticipated to be a major outpouring of local package stores owners opposing the change that would bring CT into the wave of 42 states that allow for this action. Folks are wondering, other than food store owners, will there be surprise stakeholders who appear “out of the blue”?
Last year on another controversial topic - expansion of the bottle bill - out of the blue came a group of urban residents to the Environment Committee opposing the expansion claiming that recycling redemptions centers are not readily available for their population, and that further expansion would disadvantage those who live in the cities. That made the front pages of all the newspapers and changed the dynamics of the expansion efforts. While expansion eventually got approved, it was altered significantly to allow for an extended producer-type organization to organize and take on the responsibility of the recycling of beverage containers.
So you can see participation in the public hearing process can and does make a difference.
So far, we haven’t seen any major dust-ups with all the new committee leadership. The bipartisan nature of CT’s committee process has worked over many centuries, but last year the tension got a bit tight and several committees had to kind of “reboot” at times to get the business of the day taken care of on time. It seems as if the pairings of Senate and House Democrat and Republican leaders might have taken advantage of some magical match-making – at least for now!
As the real work of the legislature takes shape, we’re so thankful the building has opened, the freshman legislators are excited to learn what's hot and what's not and the governor’s office is starting to introduce some elements of his agenda for 2023 ten days before his return to the joint assembly of the House and Senate to deliver his two-year budget. That’s probably when we might start to see some fireworks!
Unraveling the Complaint Process at the Department of Consumer Protection
It might be hard to imagine being dissatisfied to a high enough level that you would file a complaint on a business with the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP), but data from the department shows it’s used more frequently than you think.
Here’s a quick Q&A on what types of businesses fall under this supervision and the overall complaint process:
What businesses does DCP oversee as an agency where they have discretion to issue penalties?
o Home Improvement Contractor
o New Home Construction
o Professionals, trades people or contractors that should be licensed or registered with DCP.
o Real estate agents, brokers and appraisers
o Frauds, scams, misrepresentations or misleading advertisements
o Prescription errors
o Gasoline and heating fuel issues.
o Packaged, manufactured food or bakery items
o Connecticut-based telemarketers and internet retailer
Q: What can realistically be enforced on a business if they are found guilty of a violation?
A: There are provisions in state statute such as the Unfair Trade Practices Act and fines for companies that violate state regulations.
Q: How would I file a report if I wanted to make a complaint against a business with DCP?
A: Believe it or not these complaints are not filed electronically! DCP requires all complaints to be printed off a form on their website, hand-written and mailed directly to their office in Hartford. Hard to believe there are still things required to submit by hard copy in 2023.
Q: If you don’t file a complaint are there other avenues for ensuring oversight or consequences against businesses?
A: Yes - The Better Business Bureau is available to assist in major cases. In more serious cases, small claims court is available. If your claim is $5,000 or less ($10,000 for security deposit claims), you can bring suit in small claims court. You do not need a lawyer to file a claim in small claims court.
Municipal Housing Update
There is a lot of talk about housing locally these days and in Shelton, Mayor Mark Lauretti has been granted permission to build a four-story apartment complex on Bridgeport Avenue. The complex, known as the Eldridge Apartments, is a $12 million project that will include 84 one and two-bedroom units. The project was initially met with resistance from some neighbors, but the Shelton planning and zoning commission voted in favor of the proposal.
The Eldridge Apartments will be located on a 3-acre plot of land and will feature amenities such as a pool, a fitness center, and a clubhouse. The project is expected to add $1 million in annual tax revenue to the city of Shelton, and it is hoped that the complex will help to attract young professionals and families to Shelton. Construction on the complex is expected to begin in 2021. Mayor Lauretti expressed his excitement for the project, saying that it will be a great addition to the Shelton community.
Just down the road, there was a different reaction to adding additional multifamily housing in Trumbull. The Trumbull Town Council has voted to extend the moratorium on multi-family housing for another year. This moratorium was set to expire on February 15th, 2021, but the council voted unanimously to extend it to February 15th. The moratorium’s purpose is to provide the town time to review zoning regulations and update zoning changes in the area.
The moratorium prohibits new multi-family housing developments and allows the town time to review zoning regulations and update zoning changes in the area. The moratorium has been in place since 2018. During this time, the town has seen a decrease in applications for multi-family housing. Town officials cite this as evidence that the moratorium has been successful in achieving its intended purpose. Town officials are optimistic that the moratorium’s extension will give them the time necessary to make the appropriate zoning changes. The Town Council has also expressed its commitment to making sure that any changes are made in a way that preserves the town's character and quality of life.
Tax Cuts and the Budget
As we get closer to the beginning of February, when the Governor will present the legislature and the state his budget on the 8th, we are getting a better picture of just want he wants to include and maybe more importantly, what he does not want to include. The governor is looking at an aggressive tax cut for the “middle class,” meaning any family earning less than $200,000. With inflation continuing on its path impacting Connecticut families, both parties have alluded to the support of this potential cut. But with every organization, stakeholder, individual legislator, and several others looking to gain support for their financial priorities, this could get very complicated. Let’s dive in.
House Democrats are looking to expand tax credits for the working class and especially those that fall into poverty. They also want to expand the child tax credit and focus on education cost sharing grants given to municipalities. To pay for this will cost money, money the Governor may not want to spend due to the route he wants to take on tax cuts. Senator Looney, the leader of the Senate, is looking to focus in on a mansion tax impacting those properties valued at $1.5 – 2 million. See where this is going? Various priorities mean differing views on how to spend the money around our good financial outlook in the state. But, to cut taxes will cost money. To support tax credits will cost money. Money the Governor wants to focus in on for his priorities.
As we get closer to the 8th of February, or as we know, the Governor’s Budget Day 2023, we will be right there to follow the conversation around his priorities and those of the legislators who want to push the Governor in their direction.
January 20th: His Idea of Closing Churches Didn't Have a Prayer
Willard C. Fisher was one of a handful of early 20th century professors at Middletown’s Wesleyan University who gained national recognition — although in his case through controversy, not his economics lectures.
Professor Fisher was a strong-willed man who never hesitated to voice his opinions, regardless of whose sensibilities he might offend. But he was not without a following. During his 20 years at Wesleyan he served twice as mayor of Middletown, advancing policies (such as forcing the university to pay for students’ damages to town property) that some university board members thought were contrary to the interests of the institution. In January 1913, however, Fisher literally made national headlines with a speech to a private Hartford social group called the Get Together Club.
As part of a conversation about Connecticut’s strict Blue Laws, which prohibited activities like drinking and most forms of business on Sundays, Fisher wondered aloud how society might benefit if churches instead of businesses were ordered closed on Sundays.
Traditionally, Get Together Club speeches were kept confidential, but at least one attendee was so scandalized he spoke with reporters about Fisher’s unorthodox remarks. The next morning, the Hartford Courant published a breathless report titled “FISHER ADVOCATES CLOSING CHURCHES: Believes in Uproariously Good Time on Sunday.” The morning after that, the front page of the New York Times, carried the headline “CLOSE CHURCHES SUNDAY: Prof. Fisher of Wesleyan Would Like it as an Experiment.”
After weathering a storm of bad P.R., angry alumni and donors, Wesleyan University President William Shanklin called for a private meeting with Fisher on January 27, where he proceeded to ask the professor about his reported comments. Fisher admitted that while many of the newspaper stories were exaggerated, they contained “a large underlying element of truth.” Shanklin, feeling that Fisher had done the Methodist-affiliated university “a great injury,” asked for Fisher’s resignation, and the intransigent professor instantly (and by his own account, “cheerfully”) complied.
In 1913, professors like Fisher who were fired for controversial remarks had few — if any — options for filing a grievance or seeking redress, but thanks to his particular case and all the national attention it received, professors throughout the United States felt a renewed sense of urgency to organize to protect against infringements of academic freedom. Fisher’s questionable dismissal was swiftly condemned by the American Economic Association and was one of the primary catalysts for the group to create a multi-disciplinary committee to investigate similar cases. That committee formed the basis of what became the American Association of University Professors in 1915, which issued a formal statement on Fisher’s case as one of its first orders of business. An academic’s proposal that didn’t have a prayer helped pave the way for protections for outspoken professors, today in Connecticut history.
To view the full story on the CT Historian's website, click here.
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