As a freshman legislator, sworn into office in January, I didn’t quite know what to expect due to Covid. The State Capitol has been closed to the public since March 2020.
I spent most of the session in front of a laptop attending committees and listening to public hearing testimony, serving on three big committees, the Judiciary, Public Safety and the budget-writing Appropriations committee.
It is my belief that the public not being able to enter their State Capitol and engage with state lawmakers was a disservice to democracy. Citizens should be able to advocate for their issues and normally the most persuasive arguments are done in-person.
I was grateful that final debate legislation in the House of Representatives with my colleagues was in-person.
Some of the critical issues I focused on were:
Background Checks for Youth Coaches
My proposal, HB-6417, requiring background checks on youth sports coaches, instructors, athletic trainers and youth camp employees to better protect our children received bi-partisan support in the House and Senate and now moves to the governor’s desk for his signature.
This bill also requires background checks for adults who work with children in summer camps and for adults who coach youth sports. All employees over the age of 18 will be required to submit either a background check through the National Sex Offender Registry, the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry, the DCF Sex Offender Registry or a Fingerprint National Background Check. The bill would also require certain towns and other youth athletic activity operators and youth camps to conduct comprehensive background checks on certain prospective employees. A background check is a common-sense approach in preventing possible abuse of minors. As a volunteer Stonington football coach and someone who conducts these checks, I believe these simple background checks ensure we identify people with a history of crimes or offenses involving minors or other vulnerable persons never get access to children.
To Permit Online Gaming and Sports Wagering
I had the privilege to be one of the first legislators in the House of Representatives to talk on the bill in the House of Representatives, which expands online gaming and permits sports wagering in our state. The existing gaming facilities – owned by the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegan Tribes provide thousands of jobs in our region and help support our economy. To help maintain their presence in Southeast Connecticut especially with the expansion of gaming in surrounding states, we hope this bill ensures that these jobs stay in our state for the foreseeable future. Read the bill here.
A bill I could not support but did pass the legislature, Senate Bill 1019 establishes a process to erase criminal records of certain criminal convictions after a specified period following the person’s most recent conviction. Misdemeanor crimes would be erased 7 years from the conviction date and class D and E felonies would be erased 10 years from the conviction date, provided there is no re-offending. I introduced an amendment to change this to exclude time served, so the 7- or 10-year period of demonstrating the ability to re-enter and live in our society without reoffending would start upon release from prison or parole, and not include time served. The amendment failed. In addition, I felt there were still too many serious crimes – including certain hate crimes, dissemination of revenge porn, criminally negligent homicide, 2nd and 3rd degree assault; criminal violations of civil protection and restraining orders; and possession of a weapon on school ground – that were still eligible for erasure, and there seemed to be little input from the victims of these crimes.
Fixing the Police Bill
Working as the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I was able to broker a bi-partisan compromise which fixes key provisions of last year’s police accountability bill.
The major provisions of SB-1093, An Act Concerning Civilian Police Review Boards, Security Guards, Body-Worn Recording Equipment and Searches by Police and the most impactful is Section 6, which establishes a process by which an officer can perform a consent search on a pedestrian, which had previously been outright banned by Police Accountability. As a veteran police detective in Stonington, I argued how detrimental the legislation passed this summer was to ongoing investigations including narcotics trafficking, burglaries, and sexual assaults.
Also, in the bill is a prohibition on no-knock warrants by police officers, as was the ability by the judicial system to draw an adverse inference from an officer’s failure to engage his body- or dash-camera.
Combatting Online Stalking/Harassing
I did support SB-989, An Act Concerning Online Harassment which does expand various crimes related to harassment by expanding what constitutes 2nd degree stalking to include using electronic communications to disclose a person’s personally identifiable information, causing distress or fear, and instances where the stalking would cause a reasonable person to fear and 2nd degree harassment. It also expands the definition of stalking to include situations in which a person intentionally directs the conduct of another person based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability. It also allows individuals to bring a civil action against their harassers for disclosing personally identifiable information.
Expanded Coverage for Breast Cancer Testing
The legislation, HB-6626, is important for women’s health and looks to fix a loophole in current law, which mandates coverage screening of dense breasts but doesn’t include or require coverage of diagnostic tests and breast procedures. I was happy to support this bill that will extend insurance coverage for mammograms, ultrasounds, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and requires the policies to cover breast biopsies; certain prophylactic mastectomies; and breast reconstruction surgery, subject to certain conditions.
Expanding Access to Absentee Ballots
While the House and Senate have recently taken up legislation to change the state constitution to allow for ‘no-excuse’ absentee voting, the House also voted on legislation to make statutory changes to the definitions of sickness and absences. The bill, HB6205 An Act Revising Certain Absentee Voting Statutes, which I supported, broadens the definition of sickness to include care for an ill family member or because of concern for getting sick and broadens the definition of absence to include absence from the community they inhabit for part of Election Day, such as commuting to work.
I am grateful the majority in the legislature came to the same conclusion my Republican colleagues have argued for all session which is any final state budget proposal should not include new tax increases, especially with the amount of federal Covid relief Connecticut has received.
As always, constituents are free to reach out to my State Capitol office with any questions or concerns on state issues at Greg.Howard@housegop.ct.gov
43rd District: Stonington and North Stonington