Connecticut’s 2018 legislative session ended on May 9. This session, the ACLU of Connecticut weighed in with testimony on more than 80 bills. We advocated to support some positive bills and opposed threats to civil liberties that would have taken our state backward. On other bills, we raised important questions but remained neutral in our position.

In the end, the Connecticut legislature passed 12 bills that will advance liberty, justice, and equality in the Constitution State. One -- a bill to equalize access to financial aid for undocumented students – has already been signed into law by Governor Malloy. The rest are on the Governor’s desk and awaiting action.

Good Bills that Passed:

Fair Treatment for Incarcerated Women and Transgender People, S.B. 13

No one should be shackled while giving birth or imprisoned in a facility that doesn’t match their gender identity. Under this bill, Connecticut’s Department of Correction will no longer be allowed to shackle pregnant women before or during childbirth and will be required to provide incarcerated women with sufficient menstrual supplies and create family-friendly visitation policies. The bill also makes Connecticut the first state in the country to require its Department of Correction to treat transgender people who are incarcerated according to their gender identities, including by placing them in facilities that correspond with their gender identities. This bill’s passage affirms the power of the formerly incarcerated women who spoke out to see it through.

Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements, S.B. 256

Legislators — and the general public — should have a clear understanding of a bill’s impact on people of color before it becomes law. This groundbreaking racial justice bill would allow any legislator to request an assessment, called a racial and ethnic impact statement, of any bill's potential impact on people of color. Done right, these racial and ethnic impact statements can prevent legislators from being able to feign ignorance if they pass a bill that hurts people of color and provide people with tools to make sure the legislature is serving everyone.

Contraceptive Coverage, H.B. 5210

With coverage for essential health benefits like contraception threatened at the national level, Connecticut stepped up to defend reproductive freedom. This bill protects insurance coverage for essential health services without co-pays, including contraception, and improves birth control access by allowing people to pick up 12 months of birth control in a single pharmacy visit.

Pay Equity, H.B. 5386

Paying someone less on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity is wrong. Wage discrimination shouldn’t happen in the first place, and it definitely shouldn’t haunt someone throughout their career. Yet on average, women in Connecticut are paid only 79% of what men are paid, and this gap is even worse for women of color. This bill makes another crack in the glass ceiling by preventing employers from asking about an employee’s previous wage and salary history before an employee has accepted a job offer.

#AffordToDream, S.B. 4

For five years, Connecticut Dreamers have fought tirelessly to ensure that all students, regardless of immigration status, have the same opportunity to apply for and receive financial assistance to Connecticut's public universities and colleges. This year, their steadfast work paid off. We were honored to support this effort and are glad that Governor Malloy has already signed this bill into law.

Living Wills for Pregnant People, H.B. 5148

Pregnant people don’t lose their right to make health care decisions just because they are pregnant. Yet current Connecticut law automatically nullifies a person’s health care wishes if they are pregnant.  H.B. 5148, An Act Concerning Pregnant Patients Exercising Living Wills, protects people’s rights to bodily autonomy by stopping Connecticut from forcing doctors to ignore pregnant people's health care directives.

Reducing Special Parole, S.B. 14

Special parole is a particularly restrictive form of state supervision of formerly incarcerated people. Under special parole, someone can be sent back to prison for something as minor as showing up a few minutes late for an appointment with a parole officer. Right now, Connecticut is over-using special parole and disproportionately using it against people of color. Instead of helping people prepare for success when they return to society, special parole can set them up for failure and perpetual punishment. This bill takes critical steps toward stopping the cycle of mass incarceration by attempting to rein in Connecticut’s use of special parole.

New Trials for People Convicted Based on Junk Science, S.B. 509

According to the Innocence Project, 80% of people who have their convictions overturned do so with non-DNA evidence. When advances in science or technology prove that forensic evidence used to convict a person is faulty and inaccurate, that person must have the opportunity to seek a new trial. S.B. 509 will let people file motions for new trials when the evidence used to convict them has since been undermined or proven to be junk science.

Allowing Electronic Proof of Car Insurance, H.B. 5203

Connecticut is one of only two states without a law allowing drivers to use electronic, rather than paper, proof of automobile insurance. No one should face a potential criminal charge or infraction ticket just because their proof of car insurance happened to be on their phone instead of in their glove box. This common sense bill is about modernizing Connecticut’s traffic code and eliminating outdated traffic code rules that are used by police to disproportionately target people of color. Police in Connecticut are more likely to penalize Black and brown motorists for not carrying paper proof of insurance. While this bill is a positive step, Connecticut still needs to eliminate its current two-tiered system in which police are able to give some people who fail to carry paper proof of insurance an infraction ticket and charge others with a misdemeanor. The ACLU of Connecticut will continue to strive for more modern traffic laws that keep people safe by eliminating police discretion to stop people for simply driving while Black or brown.

Closing Gaps in Connecticut’s Protections for Youth who Qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, H.B. 5185

Late last year, the Connecticut Supreme Court identified a troubling gap between the Connecticut and federal age limits for youth to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile status. This bill would close that gap and protect youth by allowing immigrants up to age 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned to apply for protection under federal Special Immigrant Juvenile status relief.

Student Privacy, H.B. 5170 (amended version)

Connecticut does not have a statewide law to protect children’s personal phones from being searched without reason at school. This lack of a statewide policy can lead to administrators going on fishing expeditions in students’ phones and can contribute to the school to prison pipeline. In 2018, the ACLU of Connecticut worked with the Center for Children’s Advocacy and other advocates to push for a bill to protect students' rights and bring Connecticut in line with Supreme Court jurisprudence by preventing school administrators from searching students’ personal electronic devices without reason. In the end, the legislature passed a bill to form a working group — which will include children’s advocates, civil liberties groups, educational experts, racial justice organizers, and more — that will study this issue and create a proposed solution to Connecticut’s unacceptable lack of privacy protections for students’ devices in schools.  

Police Body-worn Camera Task Force, H.B. 5475

Police body cameras are only as good as their policies. Without policies to make sure these cameras are used as tools for police accountability, they can become another cog in a system that shields police from democratic checks and balances. Body cameras should be set up to serve the public’s need for police transparency and accountability. This bill requires the formation and meeting of a task force to study the issue of police body camera policies and create recommendations for what a good statewide police body camera policy should include. Critically, this task force’s membership must include the family member of someone who has been killed by police and civil liberties advocates.

Bad Bills Defeated:

Civil liberties never stay won. We pushed hard for the defeat of bills that would have taken Connecticut backward. Among the threats to civil liberties that did not pass were several bills that would have brought Connecticut’s justice system back to the 1980’s instead of into the 21st century. These cruel and unnecessary proposals would have jeopardized public safety, justice, and equality by criminalizing children who were in crisis and scaling back Connecticut’s earned risk reduction credit program.

What’s Next:

Each civil liberties bill that passed this year is an important step toward justice, liberty, and equality, but they are just that: steps. Connecticut still has a lot of work left to end mass incarceration, eliminate racial injustice, establish police accountability, create reproductive freedom, protect immigrants, defend LGBTQ rights, respect students’ rights, and more. Bills that would have protected Net Neutrality, defended formerly incarcerated people’s voting rights, closed loopholes in state-level civil asset forfeiture protections, begun the process for Connecticut to allow early voting, created transparency around police uses of force, and more didn’t make it through the legislature this year.

But we're hopeful. Liberty, justice, and equality take teamwork. During the 2018 legislative session, everyday people, organizations, and legislators of all political stripes stood up to defend civil liberties against threats and pushed for progress. Thousands of ACLU of Connecticut supporters took action to tell their legislators to pass good bills. With the unanimous passage of S.B. 13, we saw a moving and strong affirmation of the power of formerly incarcerated people.

2018’s legislative session is over, but our work is never done. The ACLU of Connecticut will keep fighting for progress and pushing back against threats to people’s rights, in the courts, at the capitol, and in communities throughout the state.

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