Sprint to Finish Line with Business-Related Bills
The final week of the 2013 session included consideration of many bills impacting Connecticut businesses. Several passed but many others failed to make it over the finish line. Here’s a brief look at the most important of the non-budget-related bills. [Note: Next week we will review the complete 2013 session of the General Assembly. This week, we look only at the most significant legislative activity of the session’s final days.]
Energy and Environment
Most significantly,the legislature closed the deal on a number of important energy and environmental bills. Two headliner energy bills involved implementing the governor's Comprehensive Energy Strategy (HB 6360) and providing greater flexibility to meet the state’s aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards (SB 1138).
HB 6360 includes many measures designed to help the state provide cheaper, cleaner, more reliable energy. It encourages energy efficiency by expanding options for electric metering and doubles the amount of money invested into the state’s Energy Efficiency Fund. (Unfortunately, the new state budget raids the fund for about $30 million.) The measure alsopromotes expansion of the state’s natural gas infrastructure by requiring utilities to show how and when they will increase opportunities for business and residential customers to access natural gas.
SB 1138 helps reduce Connecticut’s high energy costs by allowing the limited use of clean and reliable hydroelectric power to meet the state’s tough renewable standards.
The most important environmental measure this year for businesses, municipalities, and developers is HB 6651. It consolidates all brownfield funds into a separate account within the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and provides liability relief to municipalities that take possession of brownfield properties. The bill also modifies the circumstances under which property owners must notify DEEP about certain types of contamination near sensitive populations.
Other pro-business measures approved in the last week included SB 814, which helps reduce frivolous interventions into local permitting proceedings, and SB 1006, which requires state agencies to cite the legislative or regulatory authority they are acting under when compelling a business to take or refrain from taking action.
The final campaign finance bill (HB 6580) adopted by the legislature makes numerous changes to the flow of money into campaign political action committees (PACs) and impacts the Citizens Election Program. For example, it allows for the expanded use of ad books: Under the new law, businesses and individuals may purchase advertising space (i.e. ad books or signs) from political parties and political committees but not from exploratory committees. A business may spend up to $250 on ad space, and an individual is capped at $50. However, the new law prohibits lobbyists and their immediate family and current or prospective state contractors from buying these ads. Also addressed were concerns regarding the disclosure of membership lists for issue advertising. The bill exempts issue advertising for administrative, legislative and executive action if it is done more than 90 days before an election and exempts legislative advocacy while the legislature is in session.
During the last week, several health benefit mandate measures were passed, but some were modified in an effort to decrease their fiscal impact. The three measures include HB 6546, which requires physical therapy co-payments to be capped at $30 per visit; SB 465, which will require a type of newborn testing once the test is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and SB 1029, which grandfathers those diagnosed with autism prior to the release of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Also, the state budget implementer bill sets a new reconciliation process for the state’s childhood vaccination program that should provide greater disclosure and transparency.
Lawmakers passed a modified version of HB 6658 that eliminated many of the concerns businesses had with the original proposal. The final bill requires businesses to provide employees with seven calendar days in which to seek legal review of noncompete agreements if they were a condition of employment. It also was narrowly applied to employers that have acquired and retained the employees of a new business.
Paid Sick Leave Reforms
The business community argued for some predominantly technical changes to the state’s paid sick leave law that would not have changed anyone’s sick leave benefits but would have eliminated some of the costly and time-consuming administrative burdens. Unfortunately, after SB 1007 passed the Senate unanimously, some raised concerns about an amendment that was tacked onto the underlying bill by the Labor Committee. Although there was an agreement to adopt an amendment to remove the language of concern to some, the House failed to act on it, causing it to die.
Despite much discussion centering on two significant workers’ compensation bills, neither one was brought to a vote in the Senate. SB 823 concerned psychological injuries that are unrelated to a physical injury. And SB 1074 concerned hospital fees for workers’ compensation cases. Both of these issues are expected to resurface in the next legislative session.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
Lawmakers passed HB 6553, which creates a task force to study how to pay employees who are out on family medical leave. While this measure is likely to open the door to another costly mandate on employers, or their employees, the 23-member task force unfortunately will include only two representatives from the business community.
This week the governor signed into law SB 387, which raises the minimum wage from $8.25 to $9 over two years.
In an effort to deal with a significant problem with the original version of HB 6566, which expanded public access to information about how state business tax credits, loans and grants are being used, the governor’s office and the Finance Committee chair met with the comptroller’s office to address concerns. Despite the fact that a new amendment was agreed to and passed in the House, the bill died in Senate when time ran out on the session.
For more information, contact CBIA’s Bonnie Stewart at 860.244.1925 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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