This was a very full week at the legislature (the ACLU of Connecticut weighed in with testimony on 13 bills). So far, we’ve seen: some good, pro-civil liberties bills that we support; some dangerous, anti-civil liberties proposals that we oppose; and some bills that are well-intentioned but need work.

The Good:

Reproductive freedom is essential for women’s abilities to equally participate in society. It’s also something that should belong to everyone, including people with disabilities. Yet federal proposals have threatened access to insurance coverage for contraception without co-pays, and Connecticut law still allows the government to sterilize people with disabilities without their consent. Two bills would address these issues: H.B. 5210 would protect insurance coverage for women's preventive health services and improve birth control access by allowing people to pick up 12 months of birth control in a single pharmacy visit; S.B. 218 would prevent the state from sterilizing a person with disabilities without their consent.

We believe in equality for all people, no matter where they are from. Right now, Connecticut has a chance to stand by this ideal by passing two bills to support immigrant youth. H.B. 5185 would bring Connecticut in line with other states in our region by lowering the age when a young immigrant can apply for federal Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) Status, a national program designed to protect immigrant children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. H.B. 5031 would create a more equal chance at college for undocumented students. Right now, undocumented college students in Connecticut pay into, but can’t receive, student-generated financial aid. Denying students access to financial aid based purely on their immigration status is unfair and unjust. We’re proud to stand with CT Students for a Dream in supporting this bill.

When police decide to use cars to chase people, they can endanger the lives of the people they are pursuing, pedestrians, drivers and occupants in other vehicles, and themselves; at least six people died after police car pursuits in 2017, a significant increase. H.B. 5223 would improve public safety by creating statewide rules for when police can use cars to chase people in Connecticut. We’re also encouraging the legislature to expand the bill’s transparency provision, which requires police to send a report to the state every time they use a car to pursue someone, to also require police to report all uses of force.

As one of only two states that doesn’t allow people to use electronic, rather than paper, proof of car insurance, Connecticut is an outlier. What’s worse, Connecticut has an unequal system for enforcing this outdated law; police can give someone who fails to carry paper proof of insurance a ticket or charge them with a misdemeanor. This kind of two-tiered system means that one person who forgets to put their new proof of insurance card in the glovebox could simply be required to pay a fine, while another person who does the same thing could end up in jail. H.B. 5203 would bring Connecticut into the 21st century by allowing people to use electronic proof of car insurance, and we’re encouraging the legislature to prevent injustice and inequality by amending the bill to eliminate the misdemeanor option altogether.

Right now, some Connecticut schools have stated that they do not believe students have any privacy rights on their personal electronic devices. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court has found that before searching a student, a school official must have a specific, articulable reason to believe the student has broken a law or school rule. H.B. 5170 would protect students' privacy rights, eliminate an on-ramp for the school-to-prison pipeline, and catch Connecticut up with the Supreme Court’s guidance by preventing school administrators from going on fishing expeditions in students' personal electronic devices. We support this bill, and we’re encouraging the legislature to improve it with some additional privacy protections for students’ rights.

Read our testimony supporting these bills:
H.B. 5210, An Act Mandating Insurance Coverage of Essential Health Benefits
S.B. 218, An Act Prohibiting Involuntary Sterilization of Persons with Disabilities
H.B. 5185, An Act Concerning Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
H.B. 5031, An Act Equalizing Access to Student-Generated Financial Aid
H.B. 5223, An Act Concerning Pursuits by Police Officers
H.B. 5203, An Act Concerning Electronic Proof of Automobile Insurance Identification Cards
H.B. 5170, An Act Concerning Students’ Right to Privacy in Their Mobile Electronic Devices

The Bad:

The legislature has introduced some bills so far this session that would take Connecticut backward on justice, public safety, and government transparency. Several proposals, H.B. 5175 and H.B. 5177, could undermine people’s abilities to shed sunlight on government action through Freedom of Information requests. We know firsthand how critical FOI requests can be for holding public officials accountable and preventing state-sanctioned discrimination, abuse, and mismanagement, and we are opposing both of these bills. Another bill, S.B. 187, would criminalize children who are in crisis, imprison youth as young as 14 years old in adult facilities, and tie judges’ hands by requiring them to automatically send children who are accused of certain crimes into the adult court and jail systems. In the process, this cruel and unnecessary bill would take Connecticut backward, undermine children's wellbeing, and jeopardize public safety. We joined juvenile justice advocates, children’s mental health experts, parents, people who work with high-risk youth, anti-child trafficking experts, lawyers, the state child’s advocate, and more in voicing our strong opposition to this dangerous and cruel bill.

Read our testimony opposing these bills:
H.B. 5175, An Act Concerning Appeals Under the Freedom of Information Act
H.B. 5177, An Act Concerning Employee Notification of Requests Made Under the Freedom of Information Act
S.B. 187, An Act Concerning the Transfer of a Child Charged with Certain Offenses to the Criminal Docket and Grounds for Detention of an Arrested Child

The Complicated:

No one should be required to give up one fundamental right—the right to privacy—in order to exercise another—the right to vote. Yet when people register to vote in Connecticut, their personal information could become public. This can create what our legal director has called a “ready-made identity theft kit,” and it can endanger people’s safety. As introduced, however, H.B. 5173 doesn’t protect all voters’ privacy rights, and it leaves too many people behind. In addition, as introduced, the bill could run afoul of the First Amendment. As its title suggests, this bill is well-intentioned, but it needs work. Although we oppose H.B. 5173 as introduced, we are encouraging the legislature to improve the bill by adding stronger privacy provisions, balanced with better First Amendment protections, to safeguard voters' privacy while upholding freedom of the press.

Read our testimony on this complicated bill:
H.B. 5173, An Act Protecting the Privacy of Voters

If any of these bills inspire or concern you, remember that you can always email or call your legislators to tell them what you think. And if you’re a little nervous or don’t know where to begin, we’re here to assist. You can email throughout the legislative session, and we’ll be glad to help you connect with your legislators to make your voice heard. 

There will also be more bills to come. Because this is a short legislative session, the majority of bills are introduced by committees, not individual legislators. Committees are now in the process of holding public hearings on bills, and the ACLU of Connecticut will be keeping a close eye out for more good, bad, and complicated proposals. This year, I’ll be posting regular updates about the ACLU of Connecticut’s work to support pro-civil liberties bills and stop anti-civil liberties bills at the capital, and you can also follow the legislative section on our website for updates as we submit testimony.

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