(As of June 26, 2005)
The 2005 Connecticut General Assembly met in regular session from January 5 to midnight on June 8. Legislators drafted over 4,000 bills (i.e., proposed laws) plus about 5,000 amendments over the course of the session. The HBA of Connecticut testified on over 30 bills at public hearings and worked on many additional bills and amendments in the capital hallways.
Each year, major issues facing Connecticut and the legislature take center stage. This year, a new two-year $31.2 billion state budget was adopted, raising state spending 8.7% in the first fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2005. Other new laws occupying much of the legislature’s energy this year included a ban on hand-held cell phones while driving, authorizing civil unions, medical malpractice reform, funding stem cell research, equalizing penalties for crack cocaine offenses, taxing and funding nursing homes, school nutrition (vetoed by Governor), reorganizing the state ethics commission, expanding oversight of state contractors, and improvements to the Thames River to help save the Groton sub base. Major issues that failed to pass included campaign finance reform, the Governor’s transportation initiative and legislation to encourage new energy production and conservation. A special session of the legislature will be held June 23 and 24 to take up unfinished work.
This report is a brief synopsis of the significant bills directly affecting our industry. New laws from the 2005 regular session and bills that died are listed (the HBA’s position is noted in parenthesis; effective "upon passage” means the date the Governor signs the bill).
Major Bills that were passed and signed (or will be?) by the Governor:
PA 05-205; HB 6570 (Support provisions that passed; Opposed sections removed from bill) – This major smart growth bill establishes a new "priority funding areas” (PFA) program to shift more state money toward cities and inner suburban areas. The state budget office, OPM, will map these PFAs for legislative review and approval in 2006. The bill also requires local planning commissions to consider new growth management principles and revises the process for adopting and amending local plans of conservation and development ("PCD”). Sections of the original bill that were removed included a higher level of consistency between zoning regulations and a local PCD, greater consistency among local plans, regional plans and the state PCD, a complicated process for seeking changes to zoning boundaries or regulations that would have given planning commissions veto authority over zoning commissions, and a limitation on public hearings on subdivisions. Most provisions are effective on July 1, 2005; some PFA sections effective upon passage.
PA 05-228; SB 410 (Support most provisions; Concern over document fee) – This is the major farmland preservationlegislation. The bill establishes matching grants to municipalities to further agricultural viability, grants to farmers and agricultural non-profits for diversification of farm operations and developing farmers’ markets, establishes a database of farmers and agricultural land owners who intend to sell their farm operations or land to facilitate sales to other farm interests, and promotes educational material on farm succession planning, farm transfer strategies, farm leasing and starting a farm business. The bill also includes a new add-on $30 fee per document filed on the land records. One dollar of the fee shall be retained by the town clerk, $3 shall become part of the municipal general revenue to pay for local capital improvements, and $26 shall be deposited into the new land protection, affordable housing and historic preservation account. The funds in this new account are divided equally among four programs: historic preservation, affordable housing programs administered by the CT Housing Finance Authority ("CHFA”), open space grants administered by the Dept. of Environmental Protection, and farmland preservation programs established by this bill and other existing farmland programs. The debate in the House on this bill lasted an unusually long 6 hours, not because of the farmland protection measures, but due to the view of House republicans that the collection and expenditure of new revenues exceeds the Constitutional and statutory spending cap for the state budget (the debate took place 1 day after the House adopted the $31.2 billion state budget). Effective July 1, 2005 (but may be changed to Oct. 1, 2005).
PA 05-268; HB 6841 (Oppose) – This law extends the additional municipal conveyance tax adopted two years ago for another two years. The additional base tax rate, raised from 0.11% to 0.25% in 2003, was scheduled to sunset on July 1, 2005. Its proponents admitted that this tax is regressive and unfair but justified it saying it is needed to insulate local officials from having to face local citizens to raise property taxes, contrary to the sound policy that taxes – even at the local level – should be difficult to raise.
PA 05-263; HB 6704 as amended by House "A” ("Lake Law II” or "Son of Lake Law”) – House "A” addresses the "lake law” (C.G.S. sec. 8-2k), which prohibits development exceeding 12,000 square feet within 2,000 feet of any lake that exceeds 500 acres (reservoirs excepted). There has been much discussion of repealing this poor land use policy, objecting also to the way it was adopted (i.e., no public hearing and snuck into other legislation in the hectic final hours of the 2004 session). This year, the HBA, which supported immediate repeal of Sec. 8-2k, was told that the law would be repealed effective October 1, 2005. But this "deal” was broken when the House adopted an amendment (see House "A” above) at 10:30 pm, which the Senate adopted at 11:45 pm, on the final night that changed the repeal date to October 1, 2006. The amendment also limits the exemption for reservoirs making the development prohibition applicable to more lakes. Effective upon passage.
PA 05-190; SB 1085 (Support) – Requires that when municipalities prohibit regulated activities on land outside a wetland or watercourse that such land should be assessed for tax purposes at the same value as the wetland or watercourse itself. The bill also makes changes to the way farmland, forest land and open space are treated for tax purposes.
PA 05-90; SB 795 (Support) – This bill protects innocent purchasers of contaminated land from liability to persons other than the state for pollution that existed prior to purchase and the purchaser is not affiliated with any person responsible for such pollution. Effective Oct. 1, 2005.
HJR 146 (Neutral) – This joint resolution adopts the new state Conservation and Development Policies Plan, 2004-2009, available at OPM’s website (www.opm.state.ct.us).
Bills that were not passed by the legislature:
Land Use Bills:
HB 6870 (Support) – When applicants propose changes to zoning or subdivision regulations or zoning boundaries, this bill would have simplified, made uniform and adopted best practices for required mail notices to abutters regarding the public hearing on the application. The bill would have also required local land use boards to make limited mail notices to certain property owners when the boards themselves propose such changes. Passed the Senate unanimously but was not taken up by the House.
HB 5892 (Support most; Opposed one section) – This smart growth bill would have authorized 1) a geographic information systems (GIS) council to coordinate the different GIS standards used in the state, 2) a tax incidence study to determine the true tax burden of all citizens of the state, 3) land value or split-rate taxation for the state’s largest cities, 4) a statewide build-out analysis to be conducted by the state’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM), and 5) 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 without the build-out analysis, but nonetheless died twice in other committees. Brought back as amendments on two other bills, the final version contained only the GIS council and a study of the educational resources available to local land use commission members, but even this was not taken up by the House.
HB 6782 (Oppose) – This bill would have greatly expanded the jurisdiction of the coastal management act from the coastal boundary (i.e., 1,000 feet from the coast) to the entire municipality of coastal towns and cities and added 18 new municipalities to the act’s jurisdiction.
Numerous bills (Oppose all) – Many bills on the affordable housing appeals act that would further harm the utility of this act did not pass the Housing Committee.
Seven bills (Oppose all) – 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. These bills died in the Planning and Development Committee.
Bills to change the calculation of subdivision open space exactions to 10% of the value after a subdivision is approved and to authorize a fee in lieu-of exactions for sidewalks were both defeated in the Planning & Development Committee. HBA strongly opposed these bills.
SB 1083 (Support) – Building on 2004’s concept bill, this legislation contained well developed language to reorganize all local land use boards into 3 new commissions to better administer our local land use system. While many legislators supported this major proposal, smart growth legislation took priority in 2005. Opponents argued that the current system works just fine and no changes are needed. It may be revisited next year.
Non Land Use Bills
SB 818 (Support) – Passed by the Senate, but not taken up in the House, Senate Amendment "A” on this bill would have added additional grounds for granting statutory waivers from the handicapped accessibility requirements of the state building code for certain multifamily construction. It would have also required the adoption of the accessibility provisions of the 2003 International Building Code unamended by the CT Supplement. Without this legislation, the proposed 2005 CT Supplement, scheduled to be adopted later in 2005, will require that in applicable multifamily buildings, 20% of the dwelling units must be accessible and 80% must be adaptable. The underlying 2003 IBC would require 2% accessible and 98% adaptable.
HB 6785 (Support) – This bill would have established a new housing trust fund to create a steady, reliable source of funds for affordable housing programs. The source of funds would have been bonds supported by abandoned property, such as bank accounts, that escheat (turned over) to the state. The funds would be administered by CHFA. While the bill did not pass during the regular session, the State Treasurer’s Office and housing advocates are working to include general obligation bonds to support this housing trust fund in the bonding packages to be taken up during the late June special session.
HB 6393 (Oppose) – This "April Fools” tax would have authorized a new add-on municipal conveyance tax on real estate transfers amounting to 0.25% to 1% of the sales price. The funds would be used for purchasing open space, farmland, playing fields, shoreline access, brownfield remediation and affordable housing. These are all worthwhile goals but should be paid for by all, not just those buying and selling property. The bill passed the Environment Committee on April 1, but died in the Finance Committee.
SB 951 (Oppose) – This bill would have required new home construction contractors to include certain contract language in their new home contracts with consumers, authorized a 3-day right of rescission for consumers to back out of signed contracts and would have invalidated the entire contract if all change orders were not reduced to writing. The bill did not make it out of the General Law Committee.
HB 6516 (Oppose) – A proposal from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, this bill would have required home improvement contractors to estimate the number of hours to complete the contracted work and the hourly rate to be paid for such work. It also would have required the refund of a portion of the deposit if a contractor starts work and then performs no work for 30 days. The bill did not make it out of the General Law Committee.
Additional bills mandating fire sprinkler installation, prohibiting taking top soil and gravel off of development sites, mandating expensive energy efficiency standards, authorizing a new super-priority lien on property for unpaid fines for municipal zoning and housing code violations, authorizing review of subdivisions by regional organizations, and lengthening the timeframes for wetland decision-making were opposed by the HBA and were not adopted.
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 office.