Legal weed? No. Sports betting? Yes. Here’s what Connecticut lawmakers got done in the just-completed legislative session.

·6 min read

Connecticut lawmakers wrapped up the 2021 legislative session just before midnight Wednesday, but they are already planning to return for a special session before the end of the month to complete work they left unfinished, including the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Nearly 4,300 bills were introduced since the session began in January. More than 400 of those passed at least one chamber of the General Assembly. Fewer than that received votes in both the state House of Representatives and state Senate and were sent to Gov. Ned Lamont for his signature.

Here’s a look at some of the top issues the legislature debated this year and whether the bills crossed the finish line or not:

Sports betting: Yes

After years of negotiations, Lamont reached a deal with the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans — tribal operators of the state’s two casinos — that paves the way for sports betting that could begin as soon as September. Bets will be placed both online and in person, at the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos and at 15 retail locations operated by the Connecticut Lottery Corp., including larger facilities in Hartford and Bridgeport. The legislation also allows online casino gambling for the first time and would let the Connecticut Lottery offer online keno and online lottery games.

Marijuana legalization: No

The state Senate passed a recreational cannabis bill early Tuesday but plans to vote on the measure in the House Wednesday fell apart when Republicans would not agree to limit debate on the topic and the bill faced the prospect of being talked to death when the clock struck midnight and crowding out other legislation that needed to be passed. House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said marijuana will be voted on in a special session, perhaps as soon as next week. The sweeping proposal would create a recreational cannabis market that’s expected to launch in May 2022 and contains provisions to allow people from communities most harmed by the war on drugs an easier path in participating with reduced fees and priority for licenses. The legislation would also erase past low-level criminal convictions for marijuana-related offenses.

State budget: Yes

Lawmakers adopted a two-year, $46 billion state budget that won support from Republicans in the Senate and the House. The plan ultimately included no significant tax increases with proposals by progressives to increase the capital gains tax on the state’s highest earners and create a new “consumption tax” on the wealthy left out. The budget increases state spending in the first year by 2.6% to $22.7 billion and 3.9% in the second year to $23.6 billion. Some of the new funding includes increased payments to nonprofits that provide state services like caring for the developmentally disabled and additional state aid to cities and towns. It also includes an expansion of the earned income tax credit for low- and middle-income families.

Religious exemption for vaccines: Yes

The legislature voted early on one of the most contentious issues of the year: the elimination of the religious exemption for required school vaccinations. The bill had been on track for a vote last year before COVID-19 forced an abrupt end to the legislative session. A virtual public hearing on the issue stretched 24 hours and thousands of protesters opposed to the measure — declaring it government overreach and an infringement on parental rights — rallied outside the Capitol on various days. Lamont signed the measure in April and the vaccines will be required for the start of the 2022-23 school year. Medical exemptions for vaccines will still be permitted.

Expansion of voting access: Yes

While states across the country sought to restrict access to voting, Connecticut lawmakers passed a number of measures that seek to make it easier to cast ballots and voters will have the chance to weigh in on some of those issues in future elections. There was bipartisan support for a resolution that will allow voters to decide in 2022 whether Connecticut should join 45 other states that have early voting. Lawmakers also adopted a resolution that will allow voters to decide whether Connecticut should offer no-excuse absentee ballots. Under existing law, absentee ballot use is strictly limited to those who are sick, disabled, serving in the armed forces or away from town all day on Election Day. That resolution will need to be voted on by the General Assembly again in 2023 and if it passes would appear on the 2024 ballot.

Transportation climate initiative: No

Lawmakers ultimately did not adopt the transportation climate initiative, a regional effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade plan that would require large gasoline and diesel fuel suppliers to purchase credits for the pollution they cause. The money raised — up to $89 million in 2023, which would increase to as much as $117 million by 2032 — would be used to invest in clean transportation initiatives. Critics of the proposal said the increased costs to wholesalers would be passed on to consumers via higher gas prices at the pump. The Lamont administration said those increases would not amount to more than a nickel a gallon.

Zoning reform: Yes

Legislation that sought to bring more affordable housing to the state’s wealthier suburbs won approval in the General Assembly, but the measure was far less sweeping than what advocates had been hoping for. The measure ultimately adopted allows for the construction of in-law apartments statewide and sets new limits on the number of parking spaces developers are required to include on projects — making it easier to build higher-density housing — but local zoning commissions can vote to opt out of the requirements if they meet certain conditions.

‘Public option’ health insurance: No

A proposal to create a new state-sponsored health insurance plan through a so-called public option was not taken up by the General Assembly following opposition from Lamont. Democrats have been pushing the public option for years as a way to reduce health insurance costs for individuals and small businesses, but the legislation has faced strong pushback from Connecticut’s sizable insurance industry. Lamont said he could not support any plan that would leave state taxpayers on the hook if it were to lose money.

Expansion of ‘bottle bill’: Yes

For the first time since it took effect in 1980, legislators made reforms to the state’s “bottle bill” that include doubling the deposit fee on cans and glass bottles from 5 cents to 10 cents and instituting a new 5-cent fee on miniature alcohol bottles known as “nips.” The 10-cent deposit would also be extended to juice, sports drinks, coffee, tea and other items that had not been included prior. Supporters of the increase in the deposit fee said it would encourage consumers to redeem more bottles and cans and reduce the burden on municipal single-stream recycling programs. The money from the fees on the nips would be returned to cities and towns to help pay for litter cleanup.

Erasing past criminal convictions: Yes

Lawmakers approved “clean slate” legislation that would automatically erase certain criminal convictions if an individual did not reoffend for at least seven years afterward. Legislators went back and forth about what level of crimes should be considered eligible for erasure and the final bill passed was not as broad as what had initially been considered after pushback from Lamont and others. The more narrow version that was adopted would expunge convictions for misdemeanors and Class D and Class E felonies. Certain offenses — including family violence crimes and those that require someone to register as a sex offender — would not be eligible for erasure.

Russell Blair can be reached at rblair@courant.com.

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