The 2003 Connecticut General Assembly met in regular session from January 8 to midnight on June 4. Legislators drafted over 3,000 bills (i.e., proposed laws) plus about 5,000 amendments over the course of the session. The HBA of Connecticut testified on 60 bills at public hearings. We also worked on many additional bills and amendments. This report is a brief synopsis of the significant bills that became law in 2003 and those bills that died (the HBA’s position is noted in parenthesis).
The regular session ended without an agreement on the state budget, so a special budget session was scheduled for June. At least one bill that died (the Transportation Strategy Board recommendations) will also be considered during the special session. HBA members can call the HBA office for questions, concerns or more detailed analysis of these new laws.
Bills that were passed and signed (or will be) by the Governor
Land Use Bills:
Public Act 03-144 (SB No. 691) (Support) – Allows the recipient of a certificate of zoning compliance (typically issued with a building permit when there is an issue of a nonconforming use or a set back violation) to publish a notice of such receipt in a local newspaper to start the existing 30-day appeal period. Currently, based on a CT Supreme Court decision in 2002, the law states that the appeal period begins to run from the date of actual notice, which could be the start of construction, placing contractors and owners in a difficult situation. (Effective October 1, 2003)
Public Act 03-177 (SB No. 1024) (Support) – A bill that will greatly simplify the local land use process, this new law requires all major local land use boards (zoning, planning, zoning boards of appeal, inland wetlands and water pollution control authorities) to follow the same procedures for processing applications, including identifying the date of receipt of an application, procedures for noticing a public hearing and notifying neighboring municipalities or regional planning agencies about certain applications, timeframe for convening and holding public hearings and timeframe for making decisions. It limits extensions of the timeframes to a total of sixty-five days so that if all available timeframes and extensions are used to the maximum, the entire process must be concluded within 230 days (or 200 days for inland wetlands) from the date of receipt of an application. The date of receipt in all cases shall be the day of the next regularly scheduled meeting after submitting an application or 35 days after submission, whichever is sooner. The new law also makes certain WPCA decisions appealable under section 8-8 of the statutes, just like other land use boards. A controversial provision that would have more clearly defined what constitutes a complete application was stripped from the bill and the HBA may revisit this issue next year. (Effective for all applications, petitions, requests or appeals filed on or after October 1, 2003).
Public Act 03-184 (HB No. 5594) (Support) – Authorizes but does not mandate, prior to filing an application for use of property under the zoning, planning, subdivision and inland wetlands laws, a review of proposed projects by municipal boards, commissions, departments or their agents with the applicant-to-be at the applicant’s request. Any discussions, results or information obtained from such pre-application meetings may not be appealed and shall not be binding on the applicant or on any municipal entity having jurisdiction to review the proposed project. (Effective October 1, 2003).
Public Act 03-___ (PA # not yet assigned) (SB No. 1157) (Support) – Under the current inland wetlands statute, a public hearing on an application must be held when 25 persons sign a petition requesting a public hearing. This bill requires that such persons be 18 years of age or older and residents of the municipality in which the activity is proposed. (Effective July 1, 2003).
Public Act 03-___ (PA # not yet assigned) (HB No. 6699) (Support) – In lawsuits against municipal boards, commissions or employees, simplifies the service of process rules by requiring the plaintiff only to serve two copies on the municipal clerk. The clerk then forwards a copy to the head of the board or commission or to the employee. Thus, the bill eliminates service of process by the plaintiff on the executive head of the board, commission or employee. (Effective from passage – i.e., the date the Governor signs the bill).
Non Land Use Bills:
Public Act 03-59 (SB No. 331) (Support) – Establishes an exemption from the sheet metal license requirements for minor sheet metal work performed by registered new home construction contractors, registered home improvement contractors and licensed electricians and plumbers. The work exempted is limited to "exhaust systems installed for hoods and fans in kitchens and baths, clothes dryer exhaust systems, radon vent systems, fireplaces, fireplace flues, masonry chimneys or prefabricated metal chimneys rated by the Underwriter’ Laboratory or installation of stand-alone appliances including wood, pellet or other stand-alone stoves that are installed in residential buildings.” (Effective October 1, 2003).
Public Act 03-56 (SB No. 808) (Opposed Original bill; Negotiated bill that passed) – This bill applies the existing fairness in financing in the construction industry act (FFCI), which is applicable to commercial construction contracts, to certain residential construction contracts. Under this bill, contracts for a building intended for residential occupancy containing four or less units are exempt from FFCI. The sponsor (Senator Colapietro, Co-Chairman of a key committee) wanted it to apply to all residential work and the original bill also applied to all residential subdivision and site work but negotiated with us to craft the exemption. The FFCI limits the amount of retainage that may be withheld between owners, general contractors and subcontractors, and contains other requirements, such as job site sign postings and limitations on lien waivers. See also Public Act 03-167 below. (Effective October 1, 2003).
Public Act 03-167 (SB No. 496) (Opposed certain sections in original bill) – We opposed a section of this bill proposed by the Attorney General that would provide new home buyers with a right to rescind the new home construction contract if the builder did not start substantial work on the site within 30 days. This section was deleted from the bill. Provisions that did pass include technical changes to the new home construction contractor registration act (NHCC) and home improvement contractor registration act (HIC). An amendment added to the bill late in the session makes further changes to the fairness in financing in the construction industry act (FFCI) (see also Public Act 03-56 above) by more clearly defining retainage and adding escrow account requirements to the FFCI. (Technical changes to NHCC and HIC effective October 1, 2003; FFCI changes effective January 1, 2004).
Public Act 03-___ (PA # not yet assigned) (SB No. 879) (Support) – Establishes a new limited low voltage residential security electrical technician’s license. This bill creates a less strict apprenticeship and licensure requirement for technicians performing this work. Such technicians must work toward their L-6 limited electrical journeyman’s license and must be employed by an electrical contractor holding an E-1 unlimited contractor license or an L-5 contractor license. (Effective October 1, 2003)
Public Act 03-207 (SB No. 1077) (Support) – In response to the layoffs of the entire apprentice training program within the Department of Labor, which essentially prevented any of the licensed trades from registering new apprentices, this bill funds the reestablishment of the office by charging each registered apprentice $25/year while registered and charges each sponsor $30/apprentice participating in the sponsorship. The HBA advocated for a smaller sponsor fee. The fees passed will restore some but not all of the program’s DOL staff. DOL is also charged with studying the creation of an on-line system for registering apprentices and sponsoring programs. (Effective from passage – i.e., the date the Governor signs the bill).
Public Act 03-147 (SB No. 1137) (Support) – This law simplifies the sales tax bond requirements for non-resident contractors. It asks the resident contractor or owner to deposit 5% of the monies due to the non-resident contractor with the state at the end of the contract. The non-resident contractor then submits its records for state review for payment of the appropriate tax due the state or for a refund from the monies paid to the state by the resident contractor or owner. (Effective July 1, 2003, and applicable to contracts entered into on or after July 1, 2003).
Public Act 03-___ (PA # not yet assigned) (HB 6526) (Opposed bill as drafted by committee) – This bill creates a new "hoisting equipment” operators license. Covered equipment is identified as "motorized equipment (A) used in construction, demolition or excavation work, (B) at a construction site for a project, other than a project involving residential structures of less than four stories, the estimated cost of which is more than $1,250,000, and (C) which has a manufacturer’s rated lifting capacity exceeding five tons and a manufacturer’s rated maximum reach in excess of thirty-two feet.” Debate on the floor made clear that the dollar threshold for projects requiring an operator of such equipment to be licensed is not intended to create a registry or list of construction projects in the state. The dollar threshold becomes an issue only if a Department of Public Safety (DPS) inspector visits a site, which does not involve residential structures of less than four stories, where applicable machines are being operated and if no license is produced the only question remaining is whether the cost of the project is over or under the threshold. Regulations to implement the license will now be drafted by DPS. (Effective October 1, 2003, except that current operators have until October 1, 2004, to obtain the license).
Bills that were not passed by the legislature
HB No. 6040 (Oppose) – The major "smart growth” bill that moved forward until the last night of the session, would have established a new "priority funding areas” (PFA) program to shift more state money toward cities and inner suburban areas. The bill also greatly complicated the process for adopting local plans of conservation and development, established deficient criteria for conducting municipal "build-out” analyses, and authorized municipalities to place a numerical cap on the number of residential building permits that could be issued.
HB No. 6671 (Oppose certain land use provisions) – This bill included many recommendations from the state Transportation Strategy Board (TSB). The land use provisions we opposed required unworkable consistency between zoning and subdivision regulations and local plans of conservation and development (PCD) and destroyed the "as-of-right” benefits of site plan and subdivision applications by mandating local zoning and planning boards to deny such applications deemed inconsistent with the PCD – even if the applicable regulations were met.
SB No. 392 and others (Oppose) – Would authorize municipal imposition of development impact fees for schools, fire, police, library and many other public services.
HB No. 6581 (Oppose) – For the third year in a row, would allow each municipality, at its option, to require fire sprinkler installations in all new one and two-family homes. The compromise bill to require builders to notify customers that fire sprinkler installations are available, which the HBA supported, also died on the Senate calendar because it was attached to a mandatory nursing home sprinkler bill and existing nursing homes that would have incurred expenses to retrofit objected to the mandate. Note: The compromise bill was passed in late August in a special session on the budget (see HB 2001, section 93 - An HBA of CT Update was mailed to all members on Sept. 3, 2003).
SB 678 (Oppose) – Would require any developer of, and all contractors and subcontractors working on, a subdivision or other housing project of 50 units or greater to attend an apprenticeship training course to be developed by the Department of Labor.
HB 6171 (Support) – Would require local governments to adopt floodplain restrictions required by the federal government and institute floodplain risk management programs. It also established a new fund and grant program to assist local governments with these tasks. Communities that accomplish these tasks would be eligible for federal floodplain development assistance and property owners would receive lower flood insurance premiums.
SB 147 (Support) – Would establish three conditions of lead-paint (intact, fair and poor) rather than the current two conditions (intact, deteriorated), allowing for the rehabilitation of older units without full lead abatement in all cases where children are present.
Other Bills – The HBA also testified and worked on a number of other bills that would do the following: prohibit clear cutting on home sites; impose a mansion tax; exact more open space from developers; impose a wide variety of other smart growth measures that are not very smart; allow municipal regulation of alternative septic systems, repeal or further deteriorate the affordable housing appeals act, impose an unworkable home improvement contractor licensing program, expand the practice of engineering that would adversely impact work done by home builders and remodelers, adopt the National Fire Protection Association NFPA 1 code for new construction forcing builders to follow two conflicting codes. All of these bills died this year.
During the legislature’s special session on the budget this summer, issues of concern include potential further increases in the real estate conveyance tax, higher occupational license fees and revisiting the TSB bill (see HB 6671 above).