HARTFORD — Commerce Committee Co-Chair State Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, is looking forward to the upcoming legislative session, with a goal to continue advancing bills that help businesses in the state, especially small ones.
Hartley, a former educator in her 20th legislative term, said she’s proud of the work the 23-member panel accomplished last year — particularly related to brownfields remediation — and is eager to introduce proposals related to research and development tax credits and other initiatives to help reenergize the state’s economy while boosting small and midsize companies.
Twenty-four bills were moved out of the committee last year, 11 of which were signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont. Perhaps the most consequential piece of legislation is one that allocates $70 million toward the Brownfield Remediation and Revitalization Program over the next two years, Hartley said.
Originally, the program, backed by a $225 million state investment before 2023, was slated to receive an extra $50 million in bonding funds over the next two years. However, Hartley said, the committee managed to increase that amount to $70 million across the biennial budget.
“This is a program that helps rural communities, as well as urban and suburban communities. It helps put those otherwise previously shuttered land tracts back onto the tax rolls in different communities,” Hartley told CT Examiner this week. “… Look at my city of Waterbury. We were the brass center of the world. Fast forward to 2024, and you can imagine the vestiges of that industry that were left behind. We have availed ourselves of the Brownfields program and have been able to attract developers. No one [developers] was going to touch this stuff [land].”
Under the guidelines of the program, which is overseen by the state Department of Economic and Community Development, up to 32 separate projects can be accepted into the program annually. The program is designed to streamline the redevelopment of brownfields properties.
Hartley, who co-chairs the Commerce Committee with State Rep. Stephen Meskers, D-Greenwich, said another bill signed by Lamont deals with reducing the volume of certain data reportable by employers to the state Department of Labor. This helps many small businesses, she said, “who do not have, for example, CPAs, and others on staff.”
“It was going to cost them exponentially to meet compliance, and it was basically untenable,” Hartley said. “Reporting is important, but when you are asking them to report on so many data points for every single employee, it just was not feasible.”
Existing law requires employers subject to the state’s unemployment law to submit quarterly wage reports to the DOL with information about each employee receiving wages, including their name, Social Security number, and the amount of wages paid during the calendar quarter.
However, starting from the third quarter of 2026, the new law permits employers to include additional data in their quarterly reports, such as each employee’s occupation, hours worked and the employer’s mailing address ZIP code. The law further eliminates provisions requiring employers to include expanded data points for each employee, encompassing hours and days worked, salary or hourly wage, veteran status, disability status, highest education completed, and employment start and end dates.
It might not seem like a big deal, Hartley said, but for small businesses it was cumbersome and time consuming.
A major push for this year’s session, which kicks off Feb. 7, is to pass a bill concerning a research and development expense tax credit for pass-through entities, Hartley said. The measure did not make it to Lamont’s desk last year.
“We are really talking about smaller companies, and it is particularly important in the biotech sector where a lot of these small startup companies continue to invest in research,” she said. “These tax credits are really valuable.”
A pass-through entity typically refers to a business without equity owners that is exempt from corporate taxes. Instead, it channels its income to the corporation owners, who then report it on their individual tax returns.
Hartley said Commerce Committee members from both parties work together for the betterment of the business community.
“Our subject matters are not partisan,” she said. “We have a very strong team — I call them Team Commerce. We work together and we are very, very aligned, although we do have our differences. But we work together in promoting the economy of the state of Connecticut.”
Hartley said the committee’s relationship with the governor is positive because Lamont was a businessman before entering politics. At one time, Lamont chaired Digital Systems, a telecommunications firm that invested in new media startups. At the urging of the committee, Lamont also named a chief manufacturing officer for the state in 2019.
“The first-ever chief manufacturing officer was put in and then COVID hits,” Hartley said. “We had him [Colin Cooper] embedded in a cabinet level with the governor, working hand-in-glove to keep Connecticut’s manufacturing open and to help them pivot their production to a COVID production cycle model. We distinguished ourselves nationally because of that.”