With the legislature’s Judiciary Committee having debated, voted on and advanced numerous bills, lawmakers are one step closer to deciding what gets sent to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk for his signature.
After being vetted for their constitutionality and consistency with current law, the bills will travel to the House or Senate — whichever chamber they originated in — for further action. Not every bill passed out of committee will see the light of day before the legislature concludes in June. But they indicate at least some of what lawmakers want to address.
So far this year, that has included bail reform, prosecutorial accountability, resources for formerly incarcerated people and routine strip searches in prisons.
Here are some of the key justice-related bills to watch for:
Widely considered a major development among criminal justice experts, House Joint Resolution 261 seeks to amend the state Constitution to allow courts to deny bail to people they consider a risk to safety. Under the current Constitution, courts can deny bail to someone convicted of a capital offense. But because the state repealed the death penalty in 2012, virtually anyone is entitled to bail.
The proposal has received bipartisan support but has been opposed by prosecutors, public defenders and the bail industry, who feel there hasn’t been enough discussion among stakeholders about any drastic change to the current system.
Constitutional amendments must first pass through the House and Senate with three-fourths majority support or a simple majority in both chambers in two successive legislative terms. After passing through the legislature, constitutional amendments then have to garner majority support among voters.
House Bill 6787 would end the prosecution of any ongoing marijuana-related cases if the activity being prosecuted is now decriminalized. It would also require sentencing courts to order a hearing if a person was incarcerated prior to, on or after cannabis legalization in 2021. If “good cause” was shown during that hearing, the court would have to reduce the person’s sentence or release the person, whether fully or under supervision.
The Judiciary Committee’s passage of the bill comes after the chief state’s attorney, Patrick Griffin, told lawmakers in a public hearing last month that his office was still pursuing criminal action against people previously charged for possession of marijuana. Rep. Steven Stafstrom, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he would strike the part of the bill regarding cannabis prosecutions as long as the pending cases are fully cleared in the coming weeks.
House Bill 6918 would make technical and clarifying changes to Connecticut’s delayed “clean slate” initiative, which automatically erases the criminal records of people seven years after the date of a conviction for a misdemeanor or 10 years after the date of a conviction for certain class D, class E or unclassified felonies if they have not been convicted of other crimes.
The proposed bill maximizes the number of formerly incarcerated people who would qualify for clean slate by adding certain motor vehicle violations to the list of eligible offenses. It would limit clean slate to people who have completed their incarceration, have completed their probation and are not facing pending criminal charges. It would also require the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to post on its website the list of offenses eligible for erasure.
House Bill 6667, a proposal championed by Lamont, would ban the open carry of firearms and the bulk purchase of handguns, as well as raise the minimum age for purchasing long guns to 21. It also has elements of a proposal from the mayors of Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, where 80% of fatal and non-fatal shootings in the state occur, including a provision allowing prosecutors to seek more stringent bail conditions for people who commit serious firearm offenses.
House Bill 6875 would build on a law passed in 2017 requiring the Department of Correction, which manages the state’s jails and prisons, to provide state ID cards or driver’s licenses to people being released from incarceration.
Under the 2017 law, the department was mandated to provide the IDs to people returning home from prison as long as the person requested the identification, qualified for it and would pay the associated fees. The new bill would eliminate the requirement for a person to make the request, mandate the agency to pay the fees and require department officials to submit an annual report with data on the total number of IDs or licenses issued by each correctional facility.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers sharply criticized the DOC last month after hearing testimony from state residents who said they completed their incarceration without being issued proper identification.
Under House Bill 6888, the state would refer children who commit certain low-level offenses, such as simple trespass, to a juvenile review board that would require the child to undergo prevention, intervention and treatment services provided by a youth service bureau or community-based service providers.
The bill would expand the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee to include people with lived experience in the juvenile justice system. And it would require the Judicial Branch to develop plans for the “full and final” transition of all children in Department of Correction custody to custody of the Judicial Branch.
The judiciary also advanced House Bill 6889, which would restore the “family with service needs” petition process and expand the definition of a family with service needs to include “a truant, or habitual truant, who has been continuously and overtly defiant of school rules and regulations.” The process would allow a family with service needs to seek the help of the court who could then place the child in a community-based program or other service provider. Some advocates oppose this bill because it would result in children having to interact with the judicial system.
Senate Bill 952 would broaden parole eligibility under certain circumstances to include people serving a sentence of more than 10 years for crimes they committed before turning 25 years old, an increase from 18 years old under current law.
Senate Bill 1071 would deem a child’s admission, confession or statement to police inadmissible if it was obtained through deceptive or coercive interrogation tactics, such as lying about evidence, making false promises or depriving the person being interrogated of physical or mental health needs.
Senate Bill 1070, supported by the Division of Criminal Justice, would require each of the 13 state’s attorneys to appear annually in front of the Criminal Justice Commission to publicly testify about certain case level data, such as arrests, arraignments and demographics of people being prosecuted.
The Judiciary Committee advanced two bills tied to the New Haven Police Department incident last summer in which Randy Cox, a Black man, was left paralyzed from the chest down: House Bill 6873 and Senate Bill 1062.
H.B. 6873 would require the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council to develop a model policy requiring the use of seatbelts for people being transported and establish a disciplinary process for officers who violate the policy, which could include revocation of an officer’s license.
Under S.B. 1062, any person who experiences an emergency medical condition or is medically unstable would have the right to receive emergency medical services. It would also require an officer to immediately request medical services for people who communicate they’re experiencing an emergency condition or medical instability, or in the event that an officer observes their medical distress.
Sex offense registry
Senate Bill 1194 would end sex offense registration requirements for people convicted of a sex crime prior to the expansion of the registry, in 1998, and who haven’t committed another offense. The people addressed in the legislation were retroactively added to the registry despite being released into the community prior to its expansion. Receiving bipartisan support, lawmakers in the public hearing last month viewed the matter as one of humanity and due process.
Senate Bill 1196 would mark the first step in the process toward possibly ending routine strip searches in prisons. The proposed bill would require the Department of Correction to submit a proposal to the state for obtaining body scanning machines that would be used to conduct full-body X-ray screenings on incarcerated people.
It would also require DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros to submit to the legislature a report on the estimated costs of implementing the technology, the number of machines required, information concerning potential health risks with the technology and the capability of the technology to replace strip searches.
The legislation that advanced from committee is a drastic change from the earliest version of the bill, which sought to raise the standard for conducting strip searches to “probable cause belief” that a person has contraband and require correctional officers to submit to their supervisor for approval a document outlining the necessity for a search.