2006 Summary of CT's Regular Legislative Session

(As of June 5, 2006)

The 2006 Connecticut General Assembly met in regular session from February 8 to midnight on May 3. Despite the short session, legislators drafted over 3,000 bills (i.e., proposed laws) plus thousands of amendments. The HBA of Connecticut closely monitors all legislation, testified on over 20 bills at public hearings and worked many others in the capital hallways.

Each year, major issues facing the Connecticut legislature take center stage. A compromise state budget was adopted relatively early, creating some beneficial changes for industry, the economy and job creation. These include a 5-year phase out of property taxes on manufacturing machinery and equipment, elimination in 2007 of the corporate surcharge adopted last year, a billion dollar bonding package to fix the state’s highways and bridges and promote rail and transit statewide, and other positive changes. Other new laws that occupied much of the legislature’s time this year included closing some loopholes in the campaign finance reforms adopted last year, increased support for charter schools and Medicaid funding, and a school nutrition bill that bans soda and other beverages from schools. Major issues that failed to pass include significant eminent domain reform (but see below), gasoline zone pricing, expansion of the bottle bill, "play or pay” health care legislation aimed at requiring large retailers to provide medical insurance for their employees and restructuring CT’s energy generation and supply infrastructure. A special session of the legislature may be held on energy issues.

This report is a summary of the significant bills directly affecting our industry. New laws from the 2006 regular session and their effective dates, as well as the bills that died, are listed.

Major Bills that were passed and signed (or will be?) by the Governor:

Public Act 06-80, Raised Bill ("RB”) 5290, An Act Concerning Notice Requirements for Land Use Applications (In the face of strong opposition from municipal planners, who requested the Governor to veto this bill, the HBA wrote to Governor Rell and urged her to sign this important legislation. She signed the bill on May 30 and this new law will be effective on October 1, 2006). The HBA strongly supported this top priority bill. This legislation addresses the wide array of public notice requirements on land use applicants. It also helps to make sure local land use boards operate in the open and, like many new laws, grew out of a long history of local ordinance changes adopted without adequate public notice. The bill makes the following two changes:

First, when developers, homeowners or anyone else apply to a local planning and zoning commission (PZC) for permission to use their land, typically PZCs require the applicant to publish notices about the public hearing on the application. The legislation makes these requirements more uniform and removes some of the procedural pitfalls in current notice requirements. Under the new law, local authority to require notice of the public hearing on the application is clearly limited to newspaper notice, mailing adjacent owners (but not occupants) and posting of a sign on the land that is the subject of the hearing. Adjacent owners are to be identified from the tax assessor’s map or on the last completed grand list and proof of mailing to adjacent owners shall be evidenced by a certificate of mailing (not certified mail). Local governments must revise their PZC ordinances to comply with these changes by October 1.

Second, when a PZC proposes itself to make a change in its local zoning or subdivision ordinance, the zoning map or the local plan of conservation and development, the PZC under current law typically provides only newspaper notice of the public hearing on the proposed change. Since ordinance changes adopted by PZCs can significantly impact the rights of property owners and newspaper notices are largely ineffective to inform the general public, this legislation requires PZCs to provide some minimal additional notice to certain people who want it. This is good government. PZCs must set up a "public notice registry” with the name and address of landowners, electors and legitimate nonprofit organizations who affirmatively choose to have their name on the registry. Then, when PZCs initiate ordinance, map or plan changes, they must provide to those names on the registry a notice of the public hearing on such proposed changes no later than 7 days prior to the hearing. The registry does not require any special software and the notices are to be sent to those on the registry by regular mail or email, as chosen by the person signing up. The registry does not (and by law cannot) apply to hearings on applications since applicants have their own, more extensive but specific notice requirements. The registry applies to only PZC initiated ordinance, map or plan changes, which occur only once or twice per year.

Public Act 06-98, RB 5720, An Act Concerning the Regulation of Distribution Water Main Installations (effective October 1, 2006). The HBA strongly supported this legislation. In mid-2005, the Department of Public Health (DPH) began requiring a paper review of routine water main installations and repairs before the work could commence. While distribution water main work was and is performed according to approved engineering standards and inspected in the field, the new prior paper review caused significant delays and added uncertainty and costs to the land development process. This legislation prevents DPH from conducting these prior paper reviews of distribution water main work. Under the new law, distribution water main installations do not include work requiring construction or expansion of pumping stations, storage facilities, treatment facilities or source of supply, all of which are subject to DPH’s plan approval.

Public Act 06-17 (RB 41) and Public Act 06-24 (RB 5042) both make improvements to the process for adopting local plans of conservation and development. No substantive changes to local plans are required by these HBA supported bills. Both bills are effective October 1, 2006. The HBA encourages members to get involved in their local planning process and work to get stronger pro-housing provisions into local plans.

Public Act 06-53, RB 313, An Act Concerning Protection of Public Water Supply Resources (most sections effective October 1, 2006). Under current law, when applications are made to local zoning commissions or zoning boards of appeal to conduct activity on a water company’s watershed land or on public water supply watersheds or aquifer protection areas, notice of the application must be made to the water company in certain cases. This legislation adds applications to planning commissions for activity on such lands and requires notice of the application be sent to the state Department of Public Health in addition to the water company. The agency can appear and be heard at the hearing on the application.

Public Act 06-184, RB 5685, An Act Concerning Brownfields (effective July 1, 2006). This HBA supported bill establishes a new Office of Brownfield Remediation and Development to implement a pilot program to help towns identify, clean up and redevelop brownfield (or contaminated) sites. The law provides various regulatory and financial incentives for parties that conduct the clean up and protects these parties from liability if they clean up a site according to Department of Environmental Protection standards.

Public Act 06-73, RB 172, An Act Concerning Homeowners, Home Improvement Contractors and New Home Construction Contractors (ALERT: effective on May 30, 2006) (i.e., the date the Governor signed the law). This HBA supported bill became a lightening rod for consumer advocates and had amendments attached to it and then taken away during its course through the legislature. It ended up as mostly a technical changes bill to the new home construction contractors (NHCC) registration act. Despite its title, there are no changes to the home improvement act in the legislation. The only substantive change to the NHCC repeals the number twelve from the builder’s reference list and, therefore, removes some of the law’s micromanaging of the home building business. The new law merely requires that home builders provide to a consumer, upon request, a list of consumers of new homes constructed to completion during the previous 24 months. Corresponding changes are also made to the statutory registration notice home builders must provide to buyers or prospective buyers. The HBA produced a revised notice and members may obtain by clicking on New Home Construction Contractor Registration Notice.

Public Act 06-187, RB 5846, sections 3 to 11. These sections in the massive 99 section budget implementation bill create an Office of Property Rights Ombudsman, the only legislation passed dealing with eminent domain reform. While a small first step in addressing the abuse of government’s power to condemn private property it falls far short of the many progressive reforms that were contained in four other bills that died. Under this legislation (effective July 1, 2006) the new Property Rights Ombudsman has the legal authority to mediate disputes and will assist both government agencies and property owners in the difficult condemnation process.

Also in Public Act 06-187, RB 5846, a combination of amendments to the budget implementer bill readopts the sales tax exemption on weatherization products from June 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007. This past year’s sales tax exemption expired on April 1, 2006. The HBA supports this tax exemption.

The following additional bills were passed:

  • (Public Act 06-128, section 1)(RB 546) – authorizes municipalities to abate taxes on open space land;
  • (Public Act 06-128, section 2)(RB 546) – allows New Haven to provide for floating, overlay and flexible zoning;
  • (Public Act 06-97)(RB 5707) – allows municipalities to exempt from the subdivision laws the first lot to be subdivided if the lot is used for affordable housing and built by the municipality or a nonprofit developer (i.e., after your first cut, which is not subject to subdivision laws, you get a second cut for an affordable unit);
  • (Public Act 06-157)(RB 562) – requires Dept. of Consumer Protection to establish a gas hearth installers license by July 1, 2007, and prevents home improvement contractors from installing gas hearths without obtaining such license after July 1, 2008;
  • (Public Act 06-174)(RB 5023) – This HBA supported bill extends to open (nonunion) contractors the corporation tax credit for hiring construction trade apprentices that is currently available only to businesses that sponsor 4-year apprenticeship programs jointly with a union. It postpones awarding the credit until an apprentice completes a program that lasts a minimum of 4 years;
  • (Public Act 06-20)(RB 5039) – authorizes "special act” municipalities to require site plans as part of their zoning authority;
  • (Public Act 06-185)(RB 389) – allows municipalities to impose special assessments on blighted housing, and makes certain municipal housing and health related fines, expenses and penalties that remain unpaid for 60 days a lien on the violator’s property upon the recording of a notice of the violation on the land records. The HBA worked with the CT Bankers Association and CT Lumber Dealers Association to limit giving these new liens a priority position ahead of prior recorded mortgages and mechanics liens.
  • (Public Act 06-175)(RB 5034) – requires all state or municipal contracts of $100,000 or more for constructing or repairing public buildings receiving any state financing to require the contractor to prove that all its employees performing manual labor have completed the OSHA 10 hour construction safety course;
  • (Public Act 06-81)(RB 5440) – tightens drinking water pollution notice requirements by requiring 1) sellers of homes that are or will be served by well water to notify prospective buyers of the results of any water test for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and 2) DEP to notify state, federal and employee representatives about contaminated sites. HBA supported this compromise legislation and opposed the original bill that required all wells and the soil around them be tested for VOCs.
  • (Public Act 06-118)(RB 5611) – modifies the elements of the crime of "trover” for failing to return rental property or equipment.
  • (Public Act 06-59)(RB 5677) – For public works projects, this bill requires the general contractor or subcontractor, regardless of whether a surety bond is in place, to deposit funds in an interest-bearing escrow account on the written demand of a subcontractor. Current law requires escrow accounts only if a surety bond was not in place.
  • (Public Act 06-89)(RB 5447) - This bill prohibits people from encroaching or causing anyone to encroach on public open space land, or any land in which the state, its political subdivisions, or a nonprofit land conservation organization holds a conservation easement interest without the owner's permission or other legal authorization.

Bills that were not passed by the legislature

In numerical order (RB = Raised Bill):

  • RBs 34, 665, 5038, and 5810 – Four bills that proposed stronger limitations on the power to condemn property for economic development purposes than what did get passed (see above, Public Act 06-187, RB 5846, sections 3 to 11). See the HBA’s eminent domain policy statement.
  • RB 42 – Authorized municipalities to create transit-oriented development districts to encourage development near transit stops and the use of mass transit. HBA closely monitored this legislation and participated in early meetings on various versions of the bill.
  • RB 106 – Required the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all newly constructed and existing rental housing units.
  • RB 177 – Changed the penalty for willfully employing an unlicensed trade contractor from $200 to a class B misdemeanor.
  • RB 195 – Gave first right of refusal to water company, town, state or land trust when the owner of certain open space surrounding Candlewood Lake wants to sell their property.
  • RB 310 – Streamlined the application process for non-community public water supplies and the water planning processes of water utility coordinating committees ("WUCCs”). This HBA strongly supported bill would have made it easier to supply housing in small towns without public water supplies.
  • RB 358 – Required contractors to hold in trust those funds received via a construction contract or construction loan to the extent of any amounts owed to material suppliers for the payment of such amounts.
  • RB 396 – Proposed an unworkable and unnecessary comprehensive plan to eradicate lead-paint poisoning.
  • RB 421 – Exempted the sale or marketing of subdivision lots prior to obtaining final subdivision approval if such sales or marketing was conditioned on the final approval. HBA supported this bill along with the CT Association of Realtors.
  • RB 497 – Provided authority to general contractors to discharge liens filed on property by subcontractors, as a service to the homeowner/customer.
  • RB 534 – Allowed municipalities to require common interest communities (e.g., condominiums) to be submitted for subdivision approval. This bill, strongly opposed by the HBA, was unworkable and did not address any identified problems with the current permitting system.
  • RB 539 – Provided a tax credit for the restoration of historic properties.
  • RB 542 – Authorized two or more municipalities to jointly impose a local sales tax.
  • RB 577 – Required the Dept. of Public Health to establish a mold abatement protocol and required persons and contractors abating mold to follow the protocol.
  • RB 672 – Gutted the affordable housing appeals act by allowing a planning and zoning commission to consider any issue to deny the development, i.e., not just issues arising from the planning and zoning enabling acts.
  • RB 5043 – Prevented development near bird sanctuaries and near certain beaches.
  • RB 5277 – Made improvements to the stream diversion permit process within DEP and allowed DEP to investigate, issue orders and hold hearings regarding registered water diversions.
  • RB 5287 – Extended the time deadline for decisions of local land use boards by 35 days if an environmental interevenor came into the application under the environmental procedures act. In opposition, the HBA strongly argued that such environmental intervenors, like everyone else, should comply with the existing statutory timeframes for deciding land use applications.
  • RB 5446 – The original bill and multiple amendments, which the HBA opposed, would have restricted or eliminated the rights of property owners to abandoned or discontinued roads that they enjoy under current law.
  • RB 5565 – Changed the coastal management act by expanding the definition of coastal area to include all towns on the Connecticut River up to the Massachusetts border. The HBA worked closely with DEP to craft compromise legislation that we did not oppose and which passed the Environment Committee.
  • RB 5621 – Changed the hiring ratio for the licensed trades from a ratio of 3 journeymen to 1 apprentice to a 1 to 1 ratio. HBA strongly supports this change but in a union dominated legislature, it dies every year.
  • RB 5693 – This strongly supported HBA legislation proposed substantial improvements to the home improvement contractor registration act to even the playing field between contractors and consumers. Several of the HBA’s provisions were added to, but taken away from, RB 172 (see bills that passed above).
  • RB 5704 – Allowed municipalities to use the fee in-lieu-of open space exactions within the subdivision process to promote affordable housing. HBA opposed this bill as the wrong way to fund affordable housing programs since the only persons who bear the burden of this fee are landowners or new home buyers. Affordable housing should be supported by everyone.
  • RB 5711 – Allowed municipalities to set up storm water authorities, charge fees and assessments and lien properties for failure to pay the charges.
  • RB 5713 – Repealed the existing treble damages amount for zoning enforcement officers who bring frivolous enforcement actions or actions without probable cause.
  • RB 5714 – Imposed a $500 per tree fee to cut trees in a public right of way on state scenic highways, payable to the municipal tree warden for street beautification projects.
  • RB 5744 – Increased the local conveyance tax to be used for open space and a few other municipal expenses.

The HBA also worked on an additional thirty to forty bills not listed here to protect the interests of the housing industry. If any HBA member has any questions about any bill that passed or died, please feel free to call the HBA of CT office.

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