With the three-month legislative session shifting into high gear, Connecticut lawyers are watching for news from the various legislative committees to see what changes might be on the horizon that will affect their practices.
The Connecticut Bar Association has taken positions on almost 85 legislative matters. In some cases, it’s backing the passage of new laws or pushing for amendments to existing statutes. And in other instances, it’s tried to block certain bills that it finds objectionable.
“We have some sections and committees that take a very active position on legislation and rule-making,” said Mark Dubois, who is president-elect of the CBA. In that role, it is his job to shepherd the legislative agenda on behalf of CBA members. “It’s interesting stuff,” Dubois said.
The CBA remains opposed to a proposal that would allow nonattorneys to sell title insurance, even though Connecticut is the only state that requires attorneys to sell that type of insurance. The CBA, through its Family Law Section, also continues to oppose legislation that would limit the amount of alimony that can be awarded and the time period for which it can be awarded.
New positions taken by the CBA this year include support of legislation that would address sexual exploitation and human trafficking. One bill under consideration seeks to expunge the prostitution records of sex-trafficking survivors and enforce stronger penalties for johns. Additionally, 55 female legislators joined in bipartisan support of another measure that calls for stronger profit and property forfeiture guidelines. Under this bill, third-degree prostitution and third-degree promotion of prostitution would be added to the list of crimes subject to forfeiture.
The bar association is also supporting legislation requiring social workers and health-care providers to report animal abuse. Further, the Animal Law Section is supporting legislation that would allow students to be excused from participating in or viewing animal dissections in classrooms.
It’s unclear which, if any, of these measures will receive serious discussion this year. The legislation session seems likely to be dominated by budgetary and economic issues. “That’s going to be a major theme,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
John Walkley, a Milford lawyer who is president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, agreed, saying he does not expect “crime-centric bills” will be a focus of the legislative year, especially being that it’s an election year. “I still think that the Legislature will be looking at budget-oriented bills,” Walkley said.
But if criminal defense lawyers get their way, the General Assembly would enact a law to allow defendants in criminal cases to have their court records sealed while they are taking part in pretrial programs.
Many times, Walkley explained, first offenders charged with nonviolent crimes are offered diversionary programs, such as drug treatment, or community service and a fine, in exchange for a charge being dismissed. “Often, these first offenders apply for and are granted [a court program], only to have an employer or potential employer learn of a pending case,” Walkley said. “In the existing economy, this temporary condition could be permanently damaging. We at the criminal defense bar would really like to see that changed.”
The Judicial Branch has made several proposals to the Legislature, ranging from minor amendments of existing laws to entirely new statutes. For one thing, court administrators are seeking to delete a current requirement under state law that requires a judge to be a member of the Firearms Permitting Board.
Also, court administrators have asked legislators to pass a bill to allow Probate Court judges and their employees to access juvenile records, “to the extent necessary to perform their official duties.” The purpose of that legislation, according to officials, would improve communications between Superior Court and Juvenile Court regarding shared jurisdiction over children’s legal matters.
The Judicial Branch is also seeking an amendment to state law that would make it a new criminal offense if a person violates a protective order that a judge has issued as a condition of probation.
State Rep. Gerald Fox III, as cochairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, is involved in most of the legislative issues that matter to lawyers.
He said one of the first priorities for his committee this session will be reviewing the decision by the claims commissioner dismissing the $150 million claim against the state by Charla Nash, the Stamford woman who was maimed by a chimpanzee attack in 2009.
The committee has also been asked to look into creating a pilot program to address ways to handled civil complaints brought by condominium owners against their condominium associations. Because owners of condo units do not always have enough money to bring the associations to court when disputes arise, the Judiciary Committee is meeting with the Judicial Branch to discuss options for handling such disputes, which could include assigning those cases to a special master through a mediation process.
“It is expected that the committee will hear proposals this session, so condominium disputes can have a cost-effective forum for interested parties to seek a resolution,” Fox said.•