The Connecticut Bar Association has almost 70 legislative matters that it’s hoping to turn into new law — or keep from seeing the light of day.
Eight of the measures are initiatives of the CBA itself, and some 61 items are positions taken by one of the 18 CBA sections that have been endorsed by the CBA.
"We’re happy to have a very active role in the legislative process," said Kimberly Knox, the CBA’s president-elect and a partner at Horton Shields & Knox in Hartford. "Much of the legislation is recognizing the needs and interests of Connecticut constituents, whether corporate or individuals."
The agenda items typically have a three-year life, and either pass or expire. The one new position taken by the CBA this year is its opposition to a measure allowing non-attorneys to sell title insurance, which would remove a unique Connecticut law.
Items from 2012 that remain on the CBA’s agenda include a bill to provide enhanced penalties for the unauthorized practice of law by suspended or disbarred lawyers, non-attorneys and paralegals. The bar group is supporting publication of an online database of state agency regulations, on the agency’s website, as published in print in the Connecticut Law Journal.
A new recommendation, from the Business Law Section, is a bill to create "benefit corporations" in Connecticut. Historically, corporations’ charters and corporate case law embrace the idea of maximizing shareholder profits as a key corporate purpose. John Lawrence Jr., of Shipman & Goodwin, is the chair of the Business Law Section, which favors the model law.
Some corporations, like Newman’s Own, Patagonia, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, make a point of having socially generous objectives. That, said Lawrence, can be a weakness in the event of a hostile takeover or merger attempt. "Rumor has it," he said, this threat was used in the successful effort to force Ben & Jerry’s to go public. The "benefit corporation" concept is relatively new, and has only been adopted in about a dozen states, Lawrence said. In addition to making a profit, a "benefit corporation" would have a corporate purpose to "create a material positive impact on society and the environment." Officers and directors could consider the interests of "nonfinancial stakeholders" as well as shareholders, Lawrence said.
A version of the measure, not as well-developed, was vetoed by Gov. Malloy last year, Lawrence noted.
Some legislative initiatives are important in helping lawyers of all practice areas.
That’s the case with a measure to require that online publication of state law and regulations by the state be designated "official" — and that it is maintained in a reliable manner.
The measure, which Knox describes as "exciting," is backed by the CBA’s new law librarian section.
Another measure could ease some real estate transactions.
Fairfield lawyer Matthew Cholewa, a lawyer at Stewart Title, is treasurer of the CBA’s Real Estate Section. He’s also the primary drafter of a bill that is designed to make house closings far less complicated if a common driveway is involved. Recently, the Federal National Mortgage Association, "Fannie Mae" included a requirement in its guidelines that all such "common rights of way" be either subject to a maintenance agreement between owners, or subject to a state law that spells out the maintenance and snow removal duties.
If a mortgage didn’t comply, it would not be eligible for bundling and resale in securitized form, making it unattractive to lenders, Cholewa said. In his experience, problems with common driveways, and rights-of-way serving multiple homeowners, has been a deal-breaker in some refinancing and house closings. Sometimes the title company can provide a solution, but often the closing attorneys had to negotiate a fresh agreement among the various owners. "It could get complicated, fast, especially if there were not just two owners, but five," he said.
With the help of a law school classmate who worked at Fannie Mae, Cholewa was encouraged to base his proposed bill on California’s statute. He created a simplified model, with input from other Real Property section members. He expects public hearings on the matter later this month at the Judiciary Committee. "We have a proposed statute, it hasn’t come up yet, but it’s in the hopper."
Another new initiative is a bill to create a title system for marine vessels, which Connecticut now lacks, said Knox.
"The Commercial Law and Bankruptcy section is supporting this," said Knox, "because it will remove a perceived impediment to financing vessels in Connecticut."
The elder law practice section deals with some of the state’s neediest residents. With that vulnerable population in mind, the section is supporting an increase in the personal needs allowance for nursing home residents on Medicaid from $60 a month back to $69, restoring a painful reduction. "The section is concerned that it is often difficult for these individuals to get haircuts, clothes, birthday gifts for close family — on $60 a month," said Knox. "Nursing home residents are responsible for paying for a phone, television, postage — it doesn’t go far," she noted.
The section is also opposing any new grounds for discharging a resident from a nursing home, and supports legislation to increase home and community-based services for the elderly.
With 19 positive and negative agenda objectives, the Family Law Section far outstrips any other section in legislative issues. All 19 are in opposition to solutions generated from the battleground of divorce, alimony and custody.
Although Massachusetts has passed "alimony reform" recently, the section opposes attempts to limit the amount or duration of alimony. It’s also not keen about creating common law marriage in Connecticut, or "covenant marriage" which would add premarital counseling, pre-divorce counseling, or separation periods and waiting periods before a no-fault divorce could be granted.
The Family Law Section also opposes any requirement that arbitrators in dissolution of marriage matters be attorneys admitted to practice in Connecticut. On due process grounds, the section opposes legislation that would encourage children to express their custody preferences confidentially to the judge.
The CBA’s legislative point man is William Chapman, a 25-year veteran lobbyist in Rhode Island and Connecticut, who has been serving the association since 2007.
He has previously lobbied in Providence for high speed Internet providers, vehicular natural gas, and even two of Rhode Island’s governors. As the government and community relations administrator, Chapman is currently keeping an eye on over 200 bills of interest to the CBA and its sections.
While his work can involve debating his position over the points of his opponents, Chapman said he enjoys explaining why his position is "the right one."
His favorite part of his job "is the daily interaction with the people who affect legislation that in many cases will help people."•