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Contact: Adam Joseph
860-240-8641

June 4, 2015

2015 Legislative Session: Senate Democrats Act Boldly to Build a Stronger Connecticut

Senate Dems deliver landmark property tax relief, investments in transportation, supports for students and veterans and protections for seniors, families and consumers

Senate President Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven) and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) today said that the 2015 legislative session saw landmark legislation passed to provide property tax relief for middle-class families and small businesses, consumer protections and programs that support and empower Connecticut’s families.

“I believe this session will be remembered for our success in delivering property and car tax relief for middle-class families and small businesses all across our state,” said Sen. Looney. “In this busy legislative session, the Senate Democrats delivered legislation protecting seniors, veterans and consumers and brought transparency to the rapidly changing health care landscape.”

“This session we set the framework for a once-in-a-generation investment in our transportation infrastructure; the result will position Connecticut to create jobs, grow our economy and improve the quality of life for residents who use our roads and rail system,” said Sen. Duff. “In the aftermath of the largest data breach in state history, Senate Democrats again led the way, setting new cybersecurity standards for companies handling residents’ personal data. Additionally, we stood up for veterans, students and Connecticut workers whose jobs and livelihoods are under threat from out-of-state competition.”

Highlights of the session include:

A BALANCED BUDGET FOR MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES

Historic Property Tax, Car Tax and PILOT Reforms
For the first time in state history, Connecticut will diversify its local tax base by providing municipalities with a revenue source other than property taxes. Moving forward, 0.5 percent of state sales tax revenue will go to towns and cities. This will result in increased funding for all municipalities and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in targeted municipal property tax relief for Connecticut’s middle-class families and small businesses. The budget provides nearly $60 million in direct car tax cuts from the largest cities to the smallest towns and creates a permanent cap on the car tax in all towns at 32 mills in FY17 and 29.36 mills in FY18. This is a historic plan for middle-class families. It will result in very real property tax reductions for families and businesses alike, and is an agreement for tax fairness in Connecticut.

PROTECTING CONSUMERS

Transparency and Fairness for Electricity Pricing
Many consumers have reported that they were enticed into signing a variable-rate contract with a low “teaser” rate, only to see their bills increase significantly without warning. Electric customers deserve stable, predictable rates, whether obtained through standard offer service or from competitive offers in the private supplier marketplace. Senate Bill 573 bans variable rates charged to residential electric customers and ensures fixed-rate contracts that provide consumers with stability and security.

Restoring Transparency to Health Care Costs
Historic action was taken this legislative session to protect consumers from anticompetitive practices in the health care field that have increased costs to an unreasonable level. This bill establishes a framework that will make information on cost and quality available to both individual patients as well as institutional purchasers. It also makes Connecticut the first state to prohibit the “padding” of a medical bill with certain unreasonable facility fees. This bill makes us one of the only states in the country to protect against “surprise medical bills” and the first in the nation to guarantee that patients have a right to access their medical records and that those records should be made available to the patient and the provider of their choice. The bipartisan legislative package supports low-cost, high-quality providers and helps consumers make the best decisions for their personal health.

PROMOTING PUBLIC SAFETY

SAFE Nurse Program at UConn
The Senate passed and the governor signed a new state law that extends a successful sexual assault forensic examination program from six acute care hospitals in the state to the University of Connecticut infirmary—thereby providing the victims of a campus sexual assault with quicker, more compassionate care. The move allows trained, sexual assault forensic examiner nurses to provide more immediate care and treatment to a victim of a college sexual assault, thereby negating the need for a student sexual assault victim to travel some distance to a potentially unfamiliar health care facility to undergo an invasive examination after a sexual assault. There are 11,000 UConn undergraduate students living at Storrs, coming from every town in Connecticut.

Cybersecurity
Following through on a promise to improve consumer privacy protections following a major data breach at one of Connecticut’s largest insurers, the Senate passed legislation to secure consumers’ private information. When Anthem’s IT systems were hacked, more than 1.7 million people in Connecticut were made vulnerable by the breach. This bill requires health insurance companies to set up protocols to ensure that customers’ most private data is kept secure, and that all data in transit—whether over the Internet, on a laptop, or a flash drive—is encrypted. Additionally, companies must designate someone to be in charge of cybersecurity, report a security breach within 30 days, and provide credit monitoring to the victims of any breach.

Protecting Domestic Workers’ Rights
Domestic workers are household cleaners, nannies and caregivers that work within their employer’s household. Many of these workers have been exploited by employers who have excluded them from wage and hour laws and other protections afforded under state and federal labor laws. During this legislative session, both the House of Representatives and the Senate approved legislation to establish the definition of the term ‘domestic worker’ so that domestic workers in the state can be afforded protections that are not available to them under current law.

STANDING UP FOR VETERANS

Lower Taxes for Our Veterans
The legislature approved a tax cut for military veterans which provides a 100 percent exemption from the state income tax for federally taxable military retirement pay. State law used to provide for only a 50 percent exemption to retired members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Army and Air National Guard. This change to make more retirement and pension benefits tax-exempt will keep more of our residents in the state, and one of the best places to start is with the people who have dedicated so much to serving our country.

Women Veterans’ Program
The legislature unanimously approved the creation of the Connecticut Women Veterans’ Program, which will require the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs to establish a program that will reach out to women veterans to improve their awareness of federal and state veterans’ benefits and services. The bill also calls for an assessment of women veterans’ needs for benefits and services, as well as a review of programs and initiatives currently available to women veterans in our state.

Supporting Veterans on Campus
The legislature passed and the governor has signed a law that examines ways to make Connecticut’s OASIS (Operation Academic Support for Incoming Service Members) centers for veterans more effective. There are about 6,000 veterans enrolled in Connecticut colleges and universities; veterans use the OASIS centers to meet, study, relax, talk and to gather information on federal veterans benefits, the GI Bill, tuition waivers, disability benefits and more.

SUPPORTING SENIORS

Supporting Family Caregivers
Nearly 500,000 Connecticut residents act as caregivers, and many of them feel unprepared to provide the technical care needed to keep their loved ones healthy. The legislature passed the CARE Act, a bipartisan bill that will help to ensure that caregivers are given follow-up care instructions when a patient is discharged from the hospital and to reduce costly hospital readmissions. The CARE Act requires hospitals to:

  • Provide each patient with the opportunity to designate a caregiver during the patient’s admission to the hospital
  • Make reasonable attempts to notify the designated caregiver if the patient is to be discharged back to his or her home
  • Provide the caregiver with instructions on how to perform medication management, wound care, injections or other medical tasks for the patient when the patient returns home

Providing a Bill of Rights for Seniors Seeking Independent Living
Rather than move from their homes to an assisted living facility or nursing home, many seniors are choosing to move to continuing-care retirement communities. Individuals choosing independent living often invest their life savings into the continuing-care retirement communities with the understanding that the facility will be a wise steward of their funds. However, residents have become increasingly concerned about issues of financial fairness and disclosure at the retirement communities in which they live. The legislature unanimously approved legislation to provide additional safeguards for residents against financial exploitation from some retirement community providers. Residents will be encouraged to form their own council within each of these communities to establish a more effective communication system between themselves and the facility in which they live.

DEFENDING OUR ENVIRONMENT

Helping to Preserve Long Island Sound
The legislature approved a measure to establish the Blue Plan for Long Island Sound, a coordinated strategy for the future use of Long Island Sound. The plan requires the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and relevant stakeholders to study and compile an inventory of the Sound’s natural and human resources. The inventory and final plan compiled by the department will be submitted to the General Assembly for its final approval. Once finished, the Blue Plan will provide a detailed inventory of all natural resources, plant and animal habitats, and environmental features along Connecticut’s coastline. It will also provide information on the impact that climate change could have on the coast, allowing for more effective preservation strategies in the future.

PRESERVING HEALTHY FAMILIES

Safe Sleep Practices for Infants
Every year, more than a dozen Connecticut children die needlessly due to unsafe sleep practices. With undivided approval, the legislature passed a bill that will educate new parents on the latest safe sleep practices before they take their child home from the hospital. Simple recommendations, such as having the baby sleep in a crib without blankets, can help parents care for their newborn and possibly save a child’s life. The bill will bring Connecticut in line with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics by advising parents on safe sleep practices, including: always place babies on their backs for sleep; use a firm sleep surface covered by a fitted sheet; have the baby share the parents’ room, but not the parents’ bed; keep soft objects, including pillows and loose bedding, out of a baby’s sleep area.

Keeping Newborns Healthy
Every hour, a child in the United States becomes disabled due to a Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection. With bipartisan support, the legislature approved and the governor signed a bill that will help mitigate the devastating impact that this disease has on families. The bill requires that hospitals and other health care institutions test newborn infants for CMV if they fail a newborn hearing test. This will help parents intervene early and get their newborn child the help it needs. If a woman becomes infected with CMV during pregnancy she can pass the virus to her unborn child. In an unborn child, this congenital CMV can result in damage to the brain, eyes and inner ear. Congenital CMV can lead to lifelong struggles with deafness as well as physical and learning disabilities. CMV is the leading non-genetic cause of childhood hearing loss, and presents in more than 30,000 newborn babies every year.

EDUCATION EMPOWERMENT

Helping Children with Dyslexia
The legislature passed a bill designed to help the thousands of Connecticut children struggling with dyslexia. As defined by the bill, dyslexia is a type of “specific learning disability” that impacts reading—specifically spelling, decoding words and fluent word recognition. The bill will help parents and boards of education to detect and assist students with dyslexia, establish teacher preparation programs and provide in-service training programs that include dyslexia education and training.

Easing the Burden of Testing on High School Students
Many 11th-grade students are overburdened with the numerous standardized tests placed on them. In addition to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, many juniors also take the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement Exams and class finals all within a window of just over a month. The legislature unanimously passed a measure to eliminate the requirement that 11th-grade students take the SBAC test and instead allows them to take a nationally recognized test such as the SAT at no cost to the student and family. By providing a free college readiness exam for all of Connecticut’s high school students, the state is not only saving families money, but also making college more accessible to all of our students.

MAKING COLLEGE MORE AFFORDABLE

Educating Student Loan Borrowers
Students across the country are accruing crippling amounts of student loan debt that can in some instances prevent them from continuing their college education or providing for their families. Upon pursing a college education these students are signing loan contracts without fully understanding language relating to interest, principal, or the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Students should be given the necessary tools to be responsible loan borrowers. House Bill 6915 will establish student loan education courses at institutions of higher education. The student loan education course will cover key loan terms, documentation requirements, monthly payment obligations, income-based repayment options, loan forgiveness and disclosure requirements.

Improving Fairness in Student Loan Management
Students will have more opportunities to manage their student loan debt following the successful passage of legislation supported by Senate Democrats. The legislature passed a bill that makes student loan refinancing available to Connecticut residents, students, parents and attendees of state institutions of higher education. This bill changes unfair regulations that have prevented students from refinancing their loans and paying off their loans early. As interest rates improve, it is critical that students be able to refinance their student loan debt in order to achieve a better rate. This will help them avoid mounting interest costs, helping recent graduates secure economic independence and stability as they complete their education and establish themselves in the workforce.

Transparency in Tuition
Tuition at public four-year institutions in the U.S. has increased by 17 percent in the past five years. Student loan debt has become a family problem impacting decisions like what jobs people take, where they decide to live and when they begin a family. That is why Senate Democrats supported legislation to expand access to scholarships and increase transparency in for financial aid. The bill will result in a cap being placed on administrative expenses at the Board of Regents for Higher Education and the University of Connecticut. This will help ensure that state dollars are focused on faculty, course offerings and other things that students need to succeed and graduate on time.

 

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