Connecticut’s 2019 legislative session ended on June 6th. This session, the ACLU of Connecticut weighed in with testimony on more than 105 bills. We supported and helped pass 13 bills that advance civil rights and liberties. Out of the 13, five bills passed through both chambers unanimously and three were short of passing unanimously due to only one vote. We also still have a lot of work left to do: we supported 66 other bills that did not pass into law. We also opposed threats to civil liberties that would have taken our state backward. Although one bill that we opposed passed through the legislature, we helped to defeat 22 bills out of the 23 bills that we opposed. On other bills, we raised important questions but remained neutral in our position.
In the end, Smart Justice and ACLU-CT advocates like you helped to push the Connecticut General Assembly to pass 13 civil liberties bills for criminal justice reform, police transparency, immigrants' rights, racial justice, and more.
Bills we supported that passed
H.B. 6921, a priority of the Smart Justice campaign, originally introduced as An Act Concerning Discrimination Based on a Person’s Criminal History, was amended in the House of Representatives to instead establish the Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record. The amended bill passed out of the House with bipartisan support and out of the Senate with unanimous support and now awaits action from Governor Lamont. You can learn more about what this bill will do in our press statement.
S.B. 380, a bill that deals with police transparency, passed unanimously through the Senate before passing out of the House. This bill will require the state, for the first time, to collect all police use of force reports, and will mandate police to publicly release body and dashboard camera recordings within 96 hours after a request from a member of the public. Data and transparency will not bring back the people killed by police or prevent police violence alone, but they are important tools for people to begin taking democratic control over police. You can learn more about what this bill will do in our press statement.
S.B. 880, an important first step toward meaningful prosecutorial transparency, passed unanimously through the Senate and House. Despite the enormous power that prosecutors wield, Connecticut residents have very little information about what they do. The state does not collect or publish statistics about prosecutors’ actions, and Connecticut’s Division of Criminal Justice, which oversees prosecutors, is generally exempt from the State Freedom of Information Act. This makes it almost impossible for people to get information about the decisions of state’s attorneys. The current lack of information about prosecutors’ work hinders both the public and policymakers. Without data, it is difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and understand why there are substantial racial disparities in the Connecticut criminal justice system. We know that people of color are overrepresented in Connecticut state prisons and jails. Without data about the prosecutorial process, however, it is impossible to understand if these racial disparities are in part rooted in the prosecutorial decision-making process. The bill would require the state to collect, report, and publish information about prosecutorial work on a public website each year. You can read more about this bill.
S.B. 992, An Act Concerning the Trust Act. Senate Bill 992, championed by the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA) and its member organizations and supported by the ACLU of Connecticut, stands up for justice, equality, safety, and community by limiting the state's unnecessary participation in the federal government's deportation program. By strengthening Connecticut's existing Trust Act to prohibit state and local law enforcement from serving federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers without a valid federal judicial warrant in most cases, this bill is meant to decrease Connecticut’s role in the federal government's deportation agenda.
S.B. 1098, An Act Concerning the Testimony of Jailhouse Witnesses. This bill, championed by the Connecticut Innocence Project and supported by the ACLU of Connecticut, would create important safeguards against the use of unreliable testimony that could impact the outcome of a case. Jailhouse informants often receive leniency in their own cases or benefits if they testify, which creates an incentive for people to make false accusations and testify about events that did not happen. Unfortunately, this has led to many innocent people going to prison and even ending up on death row. According to a March 2019 report by the Innocence Project, “Jailhouse informant testimony is one of the leading contributing factors of wrongful convictions nationally, playing a role in nearly one in five of the 364 DNA-based exoneration cases.” With testimony from jailhouse informants leading to so many wrongful convictions, it is imperative that there be safeguards in place to protect innocent defendants in criminal cases.
Other bills we supported that passed through the legislature and now await action from Governor Lamont:
- S.B. 863, An Act Concerning Employment Protection for Members of the Civil Air Patrol.
- S.B. 831, An Act Concerning Minor Revisions to Special Parole and Parole Discharge Statutes.
- S.B. 1055, An Act Establishing a Task Force to Study the Juror Selection Process, Providing Access to Certain Records Possessed by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Connecticut Valley Hospital and the Psychiatric Security Review Board and Concerning Sentencing of Persistent Larceny Offenders, Nonfinancial Conditions for Pretrial Release and Confidentiality Upon Application to a Diversionary Program.
- H.B. 7389, An Act Concerning Confidentiality in the Case of a Discretionary Transfer of a Juvenile's Case to the Regular Criminal Docket and Implementing the Recommendations of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee.
- S.B. 1008, An Act Concerning a Study of the Disparities in Pretrial and Sentencing Outcomes of Criminal Defendants.
- S.B. 504, An Act Concerning the Suspension of Delinquency Proceedings for Treatment or Other Services in Motor Vehicle Theft or Misuse Cases and Concerning Detention of Juveniles.
- S.B. 1110, An Act Concerning Inmate Claims That are Filed with the Office of the Claims Commissioner.
And one bill that technically passed but doesn’t await action from Governor Lamont:
HJ 161, House Joint Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the State Constitution to Allow for Early Voting. This resolution would give Connecticut voters the chance to decide whether to give the legislature the go-ahead to adopt a resolution to allow early voting in our state. Under the resolution, the following question would appear on Connecticut voters’ ballots: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?" While the bill passed out of the legislature, it did not pass the Senate with the 75 percent vote it needed to appear on the ballot in 2020. You can learn more about what’s next for early voting here, but the story isn’t over.
Bad bills we opposed that died
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.
Threatening immigrants’ rights: S.B. 993, An Act Concerning Local and State Cooperation in the Enforcement of Federal Immigration Law, died in committee. This bill would have required local and state law enforcement to participate in the federal government's deportation machine. It would have undermined justice, equality, safety, and community by requiring law enforcement to serve federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers without a valid federal judicial warrant.
Threatening due process, privacy, and racial justice: S.B. 422, An Act Concerning a Study of Automated Traffic Enforcement Safety Devices, died in committee. This bill would have established a task force to study the use of red light cameras to enforce provisions concerning traffic control signals at intersections. We actively oppose red light cameras because of potential due process, privacy, and racial justice violations.
Jeopardizing the right to vote: S.B. 268, An Act Concerning Auditing of Election Day Registration, and H.B. 6048, Act Concerning Integrity of Election Day Registration, died in committee and would have reduced people’s access to Election Day Registration. S.B. 267, An Act Concerning Auditing of Signed Statements of Electors Prior to Voting, passed out of committee but died before reaching the Senate floor. This bill would have created unnecessary red tape that would have decreased voter participation.
Hurting youth justice and safety: H.B. 7332, An Act Concerning Public Safety and the Welfare of Repeat Juvenile Offenders and their Victims, passed out of committee but died before reaching the House of Representatives floor. This bill would have funneled more young people into the adult criminal justice system. Creating a mandatory-minimum-style requirement for a judge to send a juvenile to adult court purely based on which crime they are accused of, not their case as a whole, could incentivize over-charging by prosecutors and create an inequitable approach to justice. The bill also would have increased racial injustice because youth of color are already more likely to be transferred to adult court than white youth in Connecticut.
Bills we opposed that passed
Undermining people’s bodily autonomy: S.B. 967, An Act Concerning the Recommendations of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Regarding Emergency Medication, unanimously passed both chambers of the legislature. Our Constitution protects the liberty and privacy rights of all people, including people with serious mental health conditions. In addition, people have a civil liberty right to make their own health care decisions. Senate Bill 967, however, infringes on patients’ liberty and privacy rights by expanding who can medicate a patient without his or her consent. As a result, this proposal would take Connecticut down a slippery slope of creating more pockets of impunity with regard to patients’ privacy, liberty, and bodily autonomy.
Bills we supported that died
There were things we supported this legislative session that did not pass. Bills to legalize recreational marijuana, reduce the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor from 365 to 364 days to further protect immigrants’ rights, and guarantee legal representation for adults and children facing deportation unfortunately did not pass. Another bill that did not pass was S.B. 977, An Act Concerning Explanation of Benefits, which would have taken a step forward for reproductive freedom by creating more protections for people’s health care privacy.
The 2019 legislative session might be over, but our work to make Connecticut a more free, just, and equal place is never done. We still have much more work to do to end mass incarceration, create police accountability, and ensure liberty, justice, and equality for everyone in the Constitution State.