Highlights of Connecticut budget implementation bill

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Senate on Thursday gave final legislative passage to a wide-ranging bill that spells out details of the new, two-year $46.3 billion state budget and includes numerous other provisions. It now awaits Gov. Ned Lamont’s signature.

Following are some highlights of the legislation:

— The bill includes various voting-related measures, including a new requirement that employers give their workers two hours of unpaid time off to vote in elections if requested. It also gives people on parole the ability to vote; allows voters to apply online to the Secretary of the State’s Office for absentee ballots; and makes permanent the drop boxes installed during the pandemic for absentee ballots.

— Beginning in fiscal year 2023, the bill makes those communities with school mascots, logos and nicknames depicting Native Americans ineligible for grants provided from the Mashantucket Pequot Mohegan Fund, which comes from the state’s share of slot machine revenues generated at Connecticut’s two tribal casinos. The schools would need permission from a nearby state or federally-recognized tribe to continue to use the image or name. Also, the bill adds Native American studies to the social studies curriculum that public schools are required to teach, beginning in the 2023-24 school year.

— The bill broadens the type of written information employers must provide to certain domestic workers when they are hired, such as detail about their job duties and whether the employer will charge the workers for room and board.

— Salaries for judges, family support magistrates, family support referees and judge trial referees increase by approximately 4.5% under the bill. A Superior Court judge’s salary, for example, will increase from $172,663 to $180,460 beginning July 1.

— Beginning July 1, state funding to local and district health departments will get a boost. It’s set to increase from $1.18 to $1.93 per capita for full-time municipal health departments and from $1.85 to $2.60 per capita for district health departments.

— The bill requires the Department of Correction to provide free telephone services for prison inmates beginning July 1, 2022, instead of Oct. 1, 2022. The DOC commissioner is allowed to supplement phone service with other means of communication, including video communication and email.

— Beginning July 1, the University of Connecticut, the Connecticut State University System, Charter Oak State College and the state’s community-technical colleges will be prohibited from charging enrolled students a graduation fee. The bill also requires the UCONN Board of Trustees and the Board of Regents to jointly establish an annual “Fee-Free Day,” when they cannot charge an application fee to any high school student who applies for admission to a public college or university and has already completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form.

— The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is required to set up a grant program by Dec. 1 for new beverage container redemption centers in urban areas and in communities that lack access to redemption centers. The grants would be capped at $150,000 and their use would be limited.

— Beginning April 1, 2022, the bill requires municipalities to allow licensed food establishments, such as restaurants and markets, to have outdoor food and beverage service, regardless of local ordinances.

— The bill requires the Department of Social Services to amend state’s Medicaid plan by Oct. 1, and include coverage for services provided by licensed acupuncturists and chiropractors.

— A Connecticut Essential Workers COVID-19 Assistance Program is created under the bill. Effective Oct. 1, the program is supposed to provide benefits, on a first-come, first-serve basis, for lost wages, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and burial expenses to certain essential employees who could not work because they contracted COVID-19 or had symptoms that were later diagnosed as COVID-19.

Source: Connecticut Office of Legislative Research