The ACLU of Connecticut approached the 2023 legislative session with ambitious goals to improve access to the ballot box, begin holding prosecutors accountable, and protect children from police lying and threats.
When the gavel struck on the end of the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2023 session, we had testified on more than 130 pieces of legislation, and all four of our top priority bills passed. Here is where some key bills ended up:
Connecticut Voting Rights Act
Every voter should have equal, fair access to the ballot box, without fear, intimidation, or racist barriers. The Connecticut Voting Rights Act is one piece of making democracy more accessible for everyone, especially Black and Latinx voters, by strengthening protections against voting discrimination. In the last week of session, the Connecticut General Assembly passed An Act Concerning State Voting Rights in Recognition of John R. Lewis (the “CTVRA”) as part of the state budget. The bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis as S.B. 1226 before being folded into the budget and passing both legislative chambers again. Now, it awaits action from Governor Lamont. If signed into law, the CTVRA will go into effect on July 1, 2023, becoming the most comprehensive state-level voting rights act, setting a new standard for states across the country. The CTVRA protects voters from discrimination by:
- launching a “preclearance” program requiring local governments with a record or other signs of discrimination to prove that certain voting changes won’t harm voters of color before they can go into effect;
- providing new legal tools to fight discriminatory voting rules in court;
- expanding language assistance for voters with limited English proficiency;
- creating strong protections against voter intimidation, deception, or obstruction;
- establishing a central, secure hub for election data and demographic information to increase transparency and help Connecticut voters fight for accessible elections;
- instructing judges to look at state and local laws and rules in a pro-democracy manner to make the fundamental right to vote as accessible as possible.
We were proud to work with a broad coalition of organizations, including with our co-leaders from the NAACP LDF, to push for passage of the CTVRA.
For more than a decade, the ACLU of Connecticut and, more recently, our sister organization, the ACLU of Connecticut Rise PAC, have pushed for Connecticut voters to have the chance to vote early. Connecticut voters are busy, and we need flexibility to be able to vote at the time that works for us. This year, the legislature passed, and Governor Lamont signed into law, a bill that would create early voting in Connecticut for all elections or primaries held on or after January 1, 2024. The new law establishes Connecticut’s early voting system to require:
- For general elections: 14 days of early voting, including weekends, beginning in the 30 days before Election Day, with early voting locations open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the last Tuesday and Thursday before the election. Each municipality would have at least one designated early voting polling location, established by the local registrar of voters, and municipalities of more than 20,000 people would have the option to establish additional early voting locations.
- For non-presidential primary elections: seven days of early voting prior to a primary (except presidential primaries)
- For special elections and presidential primaries: four days of early voting prior to a special election or presidential primary.
Connecticut voters have spoken loudly and clearly, and we want early voting. The state budget unfortunately has not included the amount of money we and other advocates believe necessary for early voting to be as inclusive and accessible as possible, and we will keep fighting for early voting to be fully funded and well-implemented.
Protecting kids from police deception
Children should be safe and protected everywhere, including if they are facing an interrogation with police, who hold handcuffs and guns. For several years, we and our friends with the Innocence Project have pushed for Connecticut to ban deceptive police interrogations, which involve police using lies and threats to coerce people into confessions. No one should be imprisoned because police lied, and this year, the legislature passed a first step bill to ban police from using deceptive interrogation tactics against children. For interrogations of people under 18 years old, the bill bans police from lying about facts in a case, making false promises of leniency, threatening physical force, or denying the person’s mental or physical health needs. If Governor Lamont signs it into law, this bill would go into effect on October 1, 2023.
Connecticut’s State’s Attorneys are some of the most powerful but least accountable actors in the criminal legal system. As gatekeepers to the criminal legal system, they hold people’s lives and fates in their hands, and they have the power to make mass incarceration and systemic racism better or worse. For years, Smart Justice has been fighting for accountability for State’s Attorneys. This year, three years after it was first introduced, legislators passed An Act Concerning Prosecutorial Accountability. This bill will start to create outside oversight of State’s Attorneys by:
- establishing annual opportunities for public comment and testimony before the Criminal Justice Commission regarding State’s Attorneys’ patterns and practices;
- requiring each State's Attorney to appear before the Criminal Justice Commission annually for testimony and comment on data collected by the state’s prosecutorial transparency law, including information regarding arrests, arraignments, continuances, diversionary programs, prosecutors' communication with victims, outcomes of cases, nonjudicial sanctions, plea agreements, trial cases, court fines and fees, and restitution. The bill also requires testimony and comment regarding data about the race, sex, ethnicity, age, and geographies of defendants;
- ensuring this data was anonymized to protect the privacy of people involved in a criminal legal case.
The bill was signed into law by Governor Lamont on June 7, 2023 and goes into effect on October 1, 2023. Smart Justice will continue to push for even greater transparency and accountability for prosecutors.
No-Excuse Absentee Voting
Every voter should have the ability to vote without barriers or intimidation. For years, the ACLU of Connecticut and our allies have pushed for the legislature to give Connecticut voters the chance to decide whether everyone should have the option to vote via absentee ballot. In 2020, we sued to make absentee voting an option for everyone due to the COVID pandemic, and we know that people need that chance to vote absentee even if the pandemic ends. Connecticut voters are busy, and we need flexibility to vote in the way that is best for us. In 2023, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill that will give Connecticut voters the chance to decide whether our state Constitution should be changed to allow absentee voting as an option for everyone, also known as “no-excuse absentee voting.”
So, when Connecticut voters cast our ballots for the November 5, 2024 election, we will see a question on our ballots: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to allow each voter to vote by absentee ballot?"
The ACLU of Connecticut Rise PAC is ready to educate and inspire voters to support no-excuse absentee voting as an option for everyone.
Abortion is healthcare, and it is a human right. We were proud to be in solidarity with our friends at Pro-Choice CT, Planned Parenthood Votes! CT, and more in supporting bills to advance reproductive freedom and maternal health, including: H.B. 6820, which aims to protect abortion providers in Connecticut from lawsuits by other states for simply providing abortion care; and S.B. 3, which protects people’s sensitive health information from abuse and exploitation by “crisis pregnancy centers” (also known as CPCs), and which was amended to address concerns we raised about policing.
Opportunity for justice-impacted people
Smart Justice was proud to be in solidarity with our friends at Stop Solitary CT, the Yale Transitions Clinic, CT Justice Alliance, CT Voices for Children, and more in advocating for legislation to help people living with a record of arrest or conviction to support themselves and their families. Some good bills that passed this year include those to ensure everyone leaving prison in Connecticut has a state ID (which is critical for accessing jobs, housing, and programs and services) and a bill to allow parole hearings for people who were under 21 years old at the time they were sentenced (which gives more youth a chance at hope).