A bill that would have offered recourse to victims of what’s known as “coerced debt” — that is, debt incurred in an individual’s name by an abusive partner, often fraudulently or under threat — failed to reach a final vote in the Connecticut legislature, despite apparent bipartisan agreement on the need for such protections.
In the waning hours of the 2023 General Assembly session Wednesday evening, Senate Bill 1086, which passed the Senate unanimously last month, stalled in the House after Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, called attention to what he characterized as “many problems with the legislation.”
Fishbein, a practicing family lawyer, suggested that the legislation could complicate legal divorce proceedings, and he raised several detailed questions about language in the bill that he said was unclear or contradictory. Fishbein suggested the way the bill was written could cause undue harm to the victim.
After roughly 15 minutes of questions from Fishbein, with less than three hours left in the session and numerous bills outstanding, House leaders paused the debate and moved on to other legislation.
Banking Committee co-chairs, Rep. Jason Doucette, D-Manchester, and Sen. Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford, along with House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, gathered at Fishbein’s desk as House proceedings continued. But S.B. 1086 never came back up for a vote.
Sen. Christine Cohen, who pushed for the legislation, said she was “incredibly disappointed” it didn’t receive final passage. Cohen said she spoke with Fishbein about his concerns, and she expects the legislature will revisit the bill next session. “I’m willing to sit down and understand how to button this up so these survivors can in fact move on,” she said.
Leaders of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence also expressed disappointment with the bill’s failure. “It is a good bill, and we are grateful to the staffers and the legislators that helped to champion this legislation that would have provided survivors with a way to rectify their financial situation and gain economic independence from their abuser,” CCADV President Meghan Scanlon said in an emailed statement.
Advocates say nearly all domestic violence survivors experience this kind of financial abuse, which can leave them in a precarious economic position long after they’ve left abusive relationships.
Modeled after similar legislation in other parts of the country, the bill detailed the documentation needed to prove debt was coerced, ordered creditors to cease collections and directed credit rating agencies to reevaluate the debt and remove it from the victim’s credit report.
But the language in the bill remained a work in progress for much of the session. The Senate sent an amended version of the legislation to the Judiciary Committee for approval in early May, but Miller told committee members before that vote the bill still wasn’t in final form.
“The final draft will be a little different, we are still working on the amendment,” Miller said. The original bill was modeled after California’s coerced debt law, but lawmakers recognized some “constitutional issues” with the language, and were working to adjust language to more closely align with a framework developed in North Carolina, Miller said.
Several members of the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill that day, including Fishbein, but noted that they would be anticipating a final version that resolved the issues raised. Still, it passed the Senate unanimously last month and had been waiting on the House’s calendar for over two weeks.
When the House finally took it up on the final day of the session, it was apparently too late. House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said problems with language in the bill hadn’t been resolved before they called it for debate. “It was going to be one we call ‘a talker,’” Rojas said.
Ultimately, there wasn’t enough time to talk it through before the General Assembly adjourned Wednesday at midnight.