While all eyes are on Congress and the federal government shutdown, state government continues to hum along in Connecticut with a bevy of new laws that take effect today, Oct. 1. Several of these new laws impact certain industries, and aspects of the economy, environment, and the workplace. Here's a brief look at them.

Small Business Export Help

Small businesses (with fewer than 100 employees) could get preference in obtaining loans and grants through the DECD’s Small Business Express Program if they are seeking to enter new foreign markets to sell their goods and services.  (Public Act 13-56; SB 1004)

Fairness in Permitting 

  • Anyone seeking to intervene in state or local permitting proceedings over environmental concerns will have to provide the specific, factual basis for their action. (PA 13-186; SB 814)
  • State agencies, when issuing a proposed final decision on a permitting application, will have to provide the specific provisions of the General Statutes or regulations on which their findings are based. (PA 13-279; SB 1006)

DEEP Enforcement Authority

DEEP will be able to refer cases to the state attorney general when the agency suspects a person is about to engage in an act that violate environmental laws. There will be criminal penalties for making false statements or false representations or certifications to the agency in any application, registration, notification or other document. (PA 13-205; SB 1019)

DEEP Cleanup Reporting Change

DEEP will begin transitioning to a risk-based approach for the reporting and cleaning up of historic contamination. The focus will be on identifying contamination that presents a relatively high risk to human health or the environment, and that requires certain measures to quickly minimize the likelihood of exposure to these risks. Large and small businesses will be most impacted by these portions of the act, beginning in 2015, if they should discover:

  • Heavy metals in soils within 300 feet of certain types of sensitive land uses (such as public parks, residences, daycare facilities and schools)
  • Fumes from volatiles in occupied buildings not otherwise regulated by OSHA
  • Undissolved contaminants in groundwater at or near public water supply wells or discharging to surface waters  (PA 13-308; HB 6651)

Access to Personnel Files

Employers will have to provide employees with access to, and a right to copy, their personnel files within seven days of the receipt of an employee’s written request. (Requests from former employees must be honored within 10 days of receiving of a written request.)  Employers must include a statement on all written disciplinary actions or performance evaluations notifying employees of their right to dispute, in writing, anything they disagree with. Copies of written disciplinary actions must be provided to the employee within a single business day. (PA 13-76; SB 910)

Unemployment Comp Penalties

Penalties on those receiving unemployment compensation benefits because they made false statements or failed to disclose a material fact will be increased.  If the benefits were paid out because the employer failed to respond to the DOL’s requests for information, the employer will be responsible for their share of the charges.   If an overpayment was made to an employee, and the employer does not attend a hearing or respond to requests for information from the DOL, the employer will not be relieved of the charges for the overpayment of benefits.  (PA 13-66; SB 909)   

Employers who start or acquire a business, and fail to electronically notify the DOL within 30 days that they are now subject to unemployment taxation, will be subject to a $50 penalty. Employers failing to provide the correct unemployment compensation registration number when they submit their quarterly wage reports to the Labor Department will face a $25 penalty.  (PA 13-288; HB 6451)

Shared Work Program

All employers in the state will be able to participate in the state’s “shared work” program, which helps employers avoid layoffs during temporary declines in business. Participating businesses may reduce employees’ hours or wages and the state will supplement the wage loss by providing the employees additional unemployment insurance benefits. (PA 13-66; SB 909) 

Catastrophic Event Claims Mediation 

The Department of Insurance is authorized to run a mediation program to help with disputed claims arising from catastrophic events when the governor declares a state of emergency.  All insurers covered by this program must participate if the disputed difference between the parties is $5,000 or more, notwithstanding any applicable deductible. (PA 13-148; HB 6549)