(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:
Bills that were not passed by the legislature
In numerical order (RB = Raised Bill):
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.