Connecticut’s 2021 legislative session ended on June 9th at midnight with the work of the ACLU-CT and our many allies continuing until the final minutes.
During this session, the ACLU of Connecticut weighed in with testimony on more than 150 bills. We supported and helped pass bills that advance prison reform, civil rights and liberties.
In the end, Smart Justice and ACLU-CT advocates like you helped push the Connecticut General Assembly to pass civil liberties bills for voters' rights, criminal justice reform, racial justice, and more. During the last week of the session your constant pressure on politicians and, most importantly, the Governor helped get several monumental bills over the finish line.
Here are a few of the highlights from the 2021 Legislative Session in Connecticut:
S.B. 1019: Clean Slate Bill
S.B. 1019, a bill that creates a Clean Slate for some people living with a criminal record, may have been thinned beyond our liking, but now stands as the strongest legislation in the nation. Smart Justice has been advocating for this bill to pass into law for three years. After nearly a week's worth of pressure from allies such as CAGV, 1199, Stop Solitary, the Governor signed Clean Slate into law, PA 21-32. S.B. 1019 will automatically erase a record after a defined period of time (the time period varies for people based on the type of conviction). While we support a Clean Slate for anyone living with a criminal record, this new law, unfortunately, does not include everyone. It does, though, provide a first step toward creating light at the end of the tunnel for every person who has served their time and earned their chance to be part of society.
S.B. 1059: The Protect Act
The PROTECT Act, S.B. 1059, limits the use of solitary confinement and abusive restraints in the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC). Before this bill's passing people could be locked in their prison cells for up to 23 and a half hours a day. Working with ACLU allies Stop Solitary CT this bill accomplished reducing that time to 17 and a half hours. The Protect Act is a necessary first step in ending extreme isolation for all incarcerated people and mandates that all incarcerated people have out-of-cell time for a minimum of hours a day. This will prevent the profound mental health issues (panic attacks, depression, paranoia, and hallucinations) that are brought on by isolation.
H.J. 58: No-Excuse Absentee Ballot Access
Upon its signing, H.J. 58, allowing all voters to vote by no-excuse absentee ballot access under the state constitution is likely headed to the voters to decide in 2024, if a simple majority passes the bill again next session. This is another step forward in modernizing and further democratizing Connecticut’s voting process. In 2020, during a year fighting COVID-19, all voters were permitted to vote by no-excuse absentee ballot proving the process works and opens access to the ballot box. Nearly 650,000 voters took advantage of no-excuse absentee voting in 2020. The resolution would allow residents to vote in absentee without providing an excuse. Until its passage, Connecticut was not one of the 44 states that allowed voters to vote before Election Day either through no excuse absentee balloting or in-person early voting. Before its passage, Connecticut required in-person voting on Election Day unless the voter has a statutorily defined excuse.
H.J. 59: Early Voting
For years, the ACLU has been advocating for Connecticut to join the rest of the country by adopting early voting. H.J. 59 gives Connecticut voters a chance to decide whether our state should have early voting. Creating early voting in Connecticut would require amending our state’s constitution to overturn the current ban on early voting. To create that amendment, voters would need to vote for it at the ballot box in 2022. Because the bill didn’t pass with a supermajority in both chambers (it passed with a supermajority in one but not the other), it only needs to pass with at least a simple majority (50%) in both chambers during the 2021 legislative session to put the question before voters on the 2022 ballot.
S.B. 753: An End to Prison Gerrymandering
Connecticut is now the 11th state to abolish prison gerrymandering. Due to the once-per-decade timing of the state’s redistricting process, 2021 was the last year for legislators to decide whether to change state law to count incarcerated people as residents of their home districts before legislative districts are drawn for the next decade. Counting incarcerated people where they are imprisoned for the purpose of redistricting — instead of their home communities — Connecticut denies incarcerated people meaningful representation. Prison gerrymandering inflates the power of the districts where prisons are located, which are predominantly white and rural, at the expense of districts where incarcerated people reside, which are predominantly Black, Latinx, and urban. Ten states have already enacted legislation to end this practice, including New York, California, and New Jersey. NAACP CT and ACLU CT have long supported ending prison gerrymandering, and in early March, both organizations launched a campaign to support S.B. 753. The bill quickly gained the support of numerous legislators, received committee approval in March, and was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on May 5, 2021.
S.B. 1201: Cannabis Legalization Bill
Upon its signing, S.B. 1201, will allow recreational adult-use of cannabis making Connecticut the 18th state to allow such a measure for its residents. Connecticut residents will be allowed to purchase or possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana beginning July 1. The state would set up a regulatory framework and approve licenses to be ready to sell retail marijuana products by May 2022. The bill faces several roadblock on the way to ratification, including a potential veto from Gov. Ned Lamont
The 2021 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.