The 2004 Connecticut General Assembly met in regular session from February 4 to midnight on May 5. 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 over 20 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 2004 and bills that died (the HBA’s position is noted in parenthesis; bills effective upon passage is the date the Governor signs the bill).
Major industry bills that were passed and signed by the Governor:
Public Act 04-209 (SB 445) (Inland Wetlands) (Strongly opposed original bill; Support amended bill that passed) – This bill is a response to the CT Supreme Court’s AvalonBay v. Wilton Inland Wetland Commission decision of October 2003. The original bill and the bill passed by the Environment Committee would have greatly expanded the jurisdiction of local inland wetland commissions. The bill that passed makes clear that impacts to wildlife and their habitats in wetlands and watercourses can be considered by local commissions. But the bill also provides an express limitation on denying or conditioning permits for activities based on impacts to wildlife outside a wetland or watercourse unless such activities have a likely impact or affect on the physical characteristics of wetlands or watercourses. Therefore, contrary to some press reports on this legislation, the bill does not overturn but rather codifies the important limitations on local commissions from the Wilton decision. See a more detailed history of this legislation in the article, "2004 Inland Wetlands Legislation” and see the Senate and House transcripts of the debates on this bill. (Effective June 3, 2004).
Public Act 04-210 (SB 448) (Vested Rights) (Strongly oppose original bill; Support amended bill that passed) –. This bill changes the vested rights statute and is a response to the CT Appellate Court decision in Poirier v. Wilton. The vested rights statute, C.G.S. sec. 8-26a(b), states that no lot in an approved subdivision is subject to a change in zoning regulations adopted after the date of subdivision approval. This was confirmed by the court in the Poirier case. However, the practice in most towns was to apply current zoning to additions, tear downs, etc. The new law makes clear that the lot dimensions, area and other characteristics of the lot itself are forever protected. Construction up to the point a foundation is completed pursuant to an issued building permit also retains the right to follow the zoning regulations in place at the time of subdivision approval. Construction that is permitted after such foundation is completed must comply with zoning regulations in place at the time such construction is permitted. Thus, the bill effectively codifies current practice - see a copy of this bill with our summary. (Effective June 1, 2004).
Public Act 04-144 (HB 5045) (Floodplains) (Support) – This new law requires local governments to adopt floodplain restrictions required by the federal government and institute floodplain risk management programs. It also establishes a new fund and grant program to assist local governments with these tasks, raising the state’s land use application fee from $20 to $30. Communities that accomplish these tasks would be eligible for federal floodplain development assistance and property owners would receive lower flood insurance premiums. (Effective July 1, 2004).
Public Act 04-216 (HB 5692, Section 51) (Conveyance Tax) (Oppose) – Amends the sunset on the higher municipal conveyance tax rates adopted last August in a special budget session. The sunset that was placed on the higher rates last year meant that rates would have returned to lower levels on July 1, 2004. However, with passage of this section, a small piece of a much larger budget bill, the base rate in all towns will stay at $2.50/$1,000 for an additional year and in 18 targeted towns, the option for an additional $2.50/$1,000 is made permanent.
Public Act 04-78 (HB 5561) (Service of process rules) (Support) – If you are involved in an appeal of a land use decision, make sure your lawyer follows the new rules for serving the legal papers on municipal officials adopted by this bill. This bill clarifies a conflict in the statutes between the service of process rules under the land use statutes and the general judicial appeal statutes. (Effective October 1, 2004).
Bills that were not passed by the legislature:
Land Use Bills
HB 5044 (Support most; Oppose certain sections and sought amendments) – This 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 would have required a higher level of consistency between zoning regulations and local plans of conservation and development and between local plans, regional plans and the state plan of conservation and development. The bill also included one section that complicated the process for seeking changes to zoning boundaries or regulations and another that would have limited public hearings on subdivisions. The bill was debated for over two hours on the house floor and failed on a vote of 67-82.
SB 39 (Support most; Opposed one section) – Another "smart growth” bill, this bill included sections to 1) establish a geographic information systems (GIS) council to coordinate the different GIS standards in the state used by various agencies and organizations, 2) authorize a tax incidence study to determine the true tax burden of all citizens of the state, 3) authorize land value or split-rate taxation for the state’s largest cities, 4) authorize a statewide build-out analysis to be conducted by the state’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM), and 5) authorize a study of the land use education opportunities for local land use board members. The HBA of CT supported this entire bill except the build-out analysis section. The bill passed the Planning & Development Committee but died in another committee.
Five bills on Affordable Housing Appeals Act (Oppose all) – These bills, all versions of similar bills proposed in previous legislative sessions, did not pass the Housing Committee.
SB 496 (Vested Rights) (Strongly Oppose) – This was a different, and worse, version of SB 448 (see above under bills that passed). The HBA of CT testified on this bill in the Judiciary Committee and because of our efforts to work with SB 448, this bill was killed by the Planning and Development Committee when it was referred to it by Senate leaders.
SB 453 (Subdivision Fees) (Strongly Oppose) – This bill would have allowed municipalities to use fees in-lieu-of open space funds to pay for affordable housing, forcing all subdivision homes to subsidize affordable housing without the benefit of the affordable housing appeals act. Affordable housing is an important public concern but should be paid for by all citizens, not just new home buyers.
HB 5514 (Development Impact Fees) (Strongly Oppose) – This bill would have authorized municipalities to charge impact fees on new residential developments to be used for a wide variety of public expenses. One municipal supporter stated that it would not be unreasonable to charge $25,000 per new home under this new authority. The bill died in the Planning and Development Committee.
HB 5515 (Consolidated Local Commissions) (Support) – The concept in this bill, although not the specific language, was proposed by the HBA of CT and represented a new local land use system that would provide many benefits to municipalities, the general public and land use permit applicants. An explanation of the concepts raised in the bill appears in the HBA of CT's policy statement: "Land Use, Growth & Taxes: What To Do.” (ask us for an updated copy) While legislators were intrigued by the proposal and the public hearing on the bill was positive it was deemed too large an issue to bring to a vote given the many other issues facing the legislature this year. It may be revisited next year.
HB 5526 (Conveyance Tax for Open Space) (Strongly Oppose) – This bill would have increased the municipal conveyance tax by $2.50/$1,000 and dedicated the increase to purchase open space. All people should pay for public open spaces rather than impose this public cost on just those who buy and sell property.
Non Land Use Bills
HB 5160 (New Home Construction Contractors) (Strongly oppose original bill; Support amended bill) – This bill would have required home builders to include certain contract language in their new home contracts with consumers. The original bill proposed by the Department of Consumer Protection was unworkable since it simply picked up the onerous contract language from the home improvement contractor registration act. But the HBA of CT worked with the agency and legislators to craft an acceptable amendment, which passed the General Law Committee. The revised bill was further amended in the Judiciary Committee to address additional concerns but was never called for debate on the House floor. The HBA of CT was told that it was not on anyone’s "hot list.” The bill will likely be revisited next year.
SB 520 (Home Improvement Contractor Licensing) (Oppose) – This is the same bill proposed in the last several legislative sessions and continues to not respond to the HBA of CT’s objections. The bill would have established a new testing and licensing program for the state’s 30,000 plus home improvement contractors and all their subcontractors (even if they are not required to be registered home improvement contractors). The bill also contained an unlimited number of classes of licensure and other problems. It died in the General Law Committee.
HB 5159 (Engineering Practice) (Oppose) – This bill, proposed by the engineering licensing board within the Department of Consumer Protection, would have greatly expanded the definition of the practice of engineering to include common functions of builders, remodelers and others. It died in the General Law Committee.
HB 5164 (Home Improvement Guaranty Fund) (Oppose increased fee; Support other provisions) – This bill would have raised the guaranty fund fee for home improvement contractors from $100 to $125, raised the amount of funds going into DCP’s enforcement fund and raised the cap on the guaranty fund. The HBA of CT supported all provisions in the bill except the increased fee since home improvement contractors already pay more than enough to accomplish the rest of the bill. The bill, without the increased fee, was passed by the General Law Committee and sent to the Senate, which never took up the bill.
If any member has any questions about any bill that passed or did not pass the state legislature, please feel free to call the HBA of CT.