ACLU advocates and Smart Justice leaders at a Secondary Stops rally at the capitol building in Hartford, Connecticut in April of 2024.

The ACLU of Connecticut began the 2024 legislative session with a concrete vision and a formidable team.

We approached this arduous session with bold goals, including an increase in driving equity and improvements in equitable access to housing for all Connecticut residents. With a short session of 14 weeks between February and May, advocacy groups had to fight unreasonably hard this year for important issues to be heard and considered.

Our dedicated team used every pathway to power, achieving real results that most thought impossible.

At the end of the General Assembly’s 2024 session, the ACLU of Connecticut:

  • Logged more than 3,000 lobbying hours in the Capitol
  • Provided dozens of testimonies to legislative committees
  • Spent nearly 65 days of the 91 day session in the building discussing our priorities with legislators at every opportunity.

This week, the team hosted a legislative wrap-up webinar for a deep dive into our progress this session. ACLU of Connecticut field organizer Erycka Ortiz facilitated a lively discussion about the session — and what’s ahead for our advocacy — with senior policy organizer Anderson Curtis, interim campaign and organizing manager Gus Marks-Hamilton, policy counsel Jess Zaccagnino, and executive director David McGuire.

These are the key issues from the session, which are detailed below:

  • Promoting Driving Equity
  • Creating Safe & Accessible Housing Opportunities
  • Making Space for Equity in the Future of AI
  • Expanding Paid Sick Days
  • Ensuring Accountability with Police Body Cameras
  • Ending Cash Bail

 

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Promoting Driving Equity

In Connecticut, police are pulling over drivers for administrative and minor equipment issues that could easily be ticketed in ways that do not require a traffic stop. These stops, known as “secondary stops,” are dangerous and unnecessary for all involved.

Secondary stops often target traffic violations that are crimes of poverty, such as driving with an expired license. These unnecessary stops create a pathway to discriminatory policing.

This session, the ACLU of Connecticut teamed up with the Center for Policing Equity to advance H.B. 5324, an Act Establishing Secondary Violations, to increase driving equity in Connecticut. This bill would have recategorized some lesser, non-safety related traffic violations as secondary traffic violations. For example, having fuzzy dice hanging from a rearview mirror or having tinted windows that are too dark would no longer constitute a sole reason for police to pull someone over.

An ACLU of CT Smart Justice leader speaks at a rally at the capitol building in Hartford, Connecticut. He stands in front of signs that say "We want driving equity" and "It's time to end unnecessary low level traffic stops" and other, similar signage.

Smart Justice Leaders were constantly in the Capitol this session. They testified and discussed with legislators the possible ways to reduce the number of unnecessary and potentially dangerous traffic stops that we know disproportionately harm people of color. In addition to on-the-record testimonies and the many conversations we started, we also hosted a successful rally at the Capitol in partnership with the Center for Policing Equity and the Greater Hartford NAACP. This public action brought together key legislators, community activists, and partner organizations to lift up the voices of directly impacted people, making space for their voices to be heard about this necessary change for all Connecticut drivers.

H.B. 5324 was favorably voted out of the Judiciary Committee and was awaiting a call to the House floor for a vote as Smart Justice Leaders continued conversations about the importance of establishing secondary traffic violations. With all the work our team has done, the ACLU of Connecticut has set the scene for passage of this legislation next session, and know this will improve public safety and promote equity on Connecticut roads.


Creating Safe & Accessible Housing Opportunities

People with a criminal record have an incredibly hard time finding housing. Nationally, 79 percent of formerly incarcerated people have been denied housing due to a criminal conviction. In Connecticut, residents with a criminal record face more than 550 legal barriers to meeting their basic needs, including housing.

The ACLU of Connecticut believes that housing is a basic human right. Everyone should have access to safe and affordable housing. We are all safer, stronger, and better as a community when every person has access to housing.

This session, the ACLU of Connecticut worked with Smart Justice Leaders and community partners to advocate for H.B. 5242, an Act Concerning the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Records on Housing Opportunities, a bill dedicated to providing people with a fair chance at housing so that they can grow and thrive within their communities. When people who are living with a record are given a fair chance to find housing, earn a job, and reintegrate into society, we all succeed.

Smart Justice Leaders spent countless hours preparing testimony, building new relationships with community partners, strengthening old relationships with legislators, and championing this bill. During the public hearing for H.B. 5242 back in February, several of the Smart Justice leaders shared deeply personal experiences of navigating punishing barriers for a person with a criminal record trying to find housing — while also working to reintegrate, rebuild, and move forward with their lives. Inside the housing committee room in the capitol building in Hartford, Connecticut, Terri Ricks, a female Smart Justice advocate testifies on behalf of equitable housing.

The leaders made it clear to legislators that a person’s record of arrest or conviction does not indicate whether that person will be a good tenant, pay their rent on time, and be a good neighbor – all things a housing provider should be focused on when making decisions about rental applicants. When people are applying for housing, they should be evaluated as individual people, and the ACLU of Connecticut advocated strongly for this result.

Against all odds, H.B. 5242 made it to a favorable vote out of the Housing Committee — a direct result of the hard work and dedication of the Smart Justice Leaders. The conversations started this session are imperative to continuing this critical work and we are already preparing to build on this foundation for the 2025 legislative session.


Making Space for Equity in the Future of Artificial Intelligence

A priority for the Senate this session was S.B. 2, which focused on regulating use of artificial intelligence. Connecticut has a chance to be a national leader in equitable AI policy and regulation. The government should not be a black box around their use of newly developed AI tools.

For all its promises, if AI is not regulated and understood properly from the outset, it can lead to more discrimination and civil rights violations in our state. It’s incredibly important that we learn how to regulate and use AI in a way that is thoughtful, equitable, and just.

As this technology, governance, and civil rights and liberties issue takes shape, the ACLU of Connecticut will prioritize legislation that requires state agencies to:

  • Disclose the algorithms implemented in all areas of their work
  • Test algorithms prior to their use
  • Conduct regular audits of algorithmic results
  • Have a clear avenue for appeal if a person or people believes an algorithm incorrectly processed a decision

The ACLU of Connecticut believes the state should be proactive in building equitable regulatory policies, guardrails, and frameworks. Our team has been able to provide leadership and clarity about this issue, including recent work on the intersection between the government’s use of AI and Freedom of Information (FOI) policy with the US Commission on Civil Rights and Yale Law School’s Media Clinic, and we’re looking forward to building on this work and continuing in AI thought leadership.

For a deeper dive on what is sure to be a defining issue of our time and the ways our work can help shape equitable AI, watch our executive director, David McGuire, speak to ACLU of Connecticut’s track record and leadership on AI in state.


Expanding Paid Sick Days

This session, we were incredibly proud to work in solidarity with our friends at Planned Parenthood Votes! CT, She Leads Justice, and other advocacy groups as we saw a landmark expansion of paid sick days that now covers virtually all workers in our state. Passage of H.B. 5005, an Act Expanding Paid Sick Days in the State, ensured that by 2027, companies with one or more employees must provide for paid sick days.

The passage of another bill, S.B. 222, an Act Concerning Changes to the Paid Family and Medical Leave Statutes, has expanded the definition of family to ensure that people can also care for their loved ones and chosen families, and expanded access to Safe Days so workers can take care of a family member who experiences family violence, intimate partner violence, or sexual assault.

This is a huge win for Connecticut families — especially working families, those in small businesses, and families of color.

Hear more about this legislative win from Jess Zaccagnino, our policy counsel, during our recent post-session webinar. 

 

Ensuring Accountability with Police Body Cameras

One of the team's longtime Smart Justice Leaders, Terri Ricks, also testified in support of H.B. 5381, an Act Concerning the Use of Police Body-Worn Recording Equipment, a bill the ACLU of Connecticut supported this session. This bill updates the state’s guidelines on the use of police body cameras to include provisions regarding when officers cannot pause recording on their body cameras.

Currently, Connecticut’s model policy allows police to turn off their cameras if they determine that their investigation could be significantly impacted by continuing to record. If police are given such broad discretion as to when to turn on and off their cameras, key moments of constitutional violations are likely to go unrecorded. As our policy counsel Jess Zaccagnino explains in this portion of the webinar, this could potentially create an opportunity for a guilty police officer to evade liability and an innocent person to be wrongfully convicted.

 

Ending Cash Bail

The ACLU of Connecticut believes in ending the cash bail system in its entirety. People who are incarcerated because they cannot afford bail are most often poorer Americans and people of color. As trials drag out, people can be left incarcerated in jail for months or even years, just because they cannot access the large amount of capital necessary to secure their freedom.

Connecticut is one of the many states with a cash bail system that disproportionately harms people of color, especially Black and Latinx communities.  Disguised as a tool to try to guarantee a person will return for a trial, the cash bail system allows for people to be incarcerated pre-trial if they do not have the resources to pay the set bail amount in cash. In other words, a person can be punished before they’ve even had a chance to defend themselves in court.

This session, the legislature introduced a constitutional amendment that would review the requirements related to the setting and offering of cash bail. As Gus Marks-Hamilton, our interim campaign and organizing manager, says in this portion of the webinar, while this amendment was a step in the right direction, the ACLU of Connecticut looks forward to continuing the conversation about how to make critical reform to our cash bail system.